A visitor to the Goseck solar observatory © Sebastian Willnow
St. John’s bonfires, herb walks and lively celebrations: the day of the summer solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years. From now on the days become shorter again.
"From now on it was downhill…", once sang Hildegard Knef. She related this ironically to her artistic life. But this title can be well related to the day of the summer solstice, which is coming up on Thursday. Sunrise 5.29 o’clock, sunset 21.32 o’clock: the longest day of the year lasts 16 hours, 2 minutes and 45 seconds in Fribourg.
In Kiel, the sun already rises at 4:44 a.m. and and 21.57 o’clock under – that makes a day length of 17 hours and about 13 minutes. Still imperceptible at first, the days then become shorter again. At the end of the month, the length of the day has already shrunk by four minutes. On 21. June, the sun reaches its highest point over the northern hemisphere of the earth. This position, also known as the Tropic of Cancer, is at 23° 26 northern latitude, which is at the level of the Sahara Desert. Responsible for the seasons and the different day lengths is that the axis of rotation of the earth is oblique to the sun.
Thus the sun position shifts from day to day. On Midsummer’s Day, the Earth’s axis tilts exactly toward the sun. Inhabitants of the northern hemisphere rejoice at the beginning of the warmest season of the year. This is because a lot of solar energy then reaches the northern part of the globe. The atmosphere and the earth’s surface there continues to warm as the summer progresses.
Solstice days are probably the oldest holidays at all
Feasts and fires were meant to drive away evil demons, spirits, and disease; light and warmth were celebrated, a good harvest was hoped for. Excavations and ancient buildings show that people tried to calculate the summer and parallel winter solstice exactly already several thousand years ago.
About the more than 7.000-year-old circular excavation site in Goseck in Saxony-Anhalt, which was only discovered in the early 1990s: The gates and paths to the site are aligned with those points on the horizon where the sun rose and set at the winter solstice back then. A sighting device in the palisade was also discovered, which enabled the determination of the summer solstice.
At Stonehenge in England, which is more than one and a half millennia younger, on the other hand, the summer solstice seems to have played the main role. The horseshoe-shaped ensemble of stone gates in the center, built around the same time as the great pyramids in Egypt, pointed to the sunrise on Midsummer’s Day.
Christian church also celebrated solstice
The Christian church also celebrated the solstice, but reinterpreted the pagan customs. The 24. June is the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, which is exactly six months before the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus. Already in the late Middle Ages, St. John’s bonfires were piled up, services and festivities were celebrated around the fire.
However, the summer solstice has been celebrated only sporadically in Germany since World War II because the Nazis abused the festival. SS chief Heinrich Himmler attached particular importance to the cultivation of supposedly Germanic customs and thus wanted to displace Christian festivals. Solstice is still celebrated in the Lippe region of North Rhine-Westphalia. In the center: the Externsteine near Detmold, also known as the Stonehenge of the Teutoburg Forest.
Esoterics, old hippies and young people who want to party make a pilgrimage to the mystical 13 sandstone rocks that rise up to 40 meters into the sky. The festival is much more rooted in Sweden; the other Scandinavian countries and the Baltic states are also in a party mood then. Because the further north you go, the longer the sun stays in the sky in summer.
It doesn’t get dark at all in the Arctic Circle. Singing, dancing and wreaths of flowers in your hair: in Sweden, the summer solstice is an official holiday, always celebrated on Saturday between 20. and 26. June is celebrated, this year on Saturday, 23 June. June. This time the longest day of the year could be even more colorful there. Sweden challenges Germany at the World Cup in Sochi, of all places, to celebrate the summer solstice. The German team then hopes for a different turn of events.