What is the Summer Solstice?
The Summer Solstice occurs in the Northern hemisphere, when the axial tilt of the earth is at its closest point to the sun, making it the longest day of the year. It is the turning point of the year when the sunshines longest. In Ireland, that date is the 21st of June. The summer solstice was one of 8 Celtic festivals celebrated throughout the year.
Celtic Festivals and Dates
- Samhain: 1st November
- Winter Solstice: 21st December
- Imbolc: 2nd February
- Spring Equinox: 21st March
- Bealtaine: 1st May
- Summer Solstice: 21st June
- Lughnasadh: 1st August
- Autumn Equinox: 21-24 September
The Importance of the Summer Solstice to the Celts
The summer solstice was seen as a time to banish evil spirits, through the light of the sun. They would pray for a good harvest, as it was halfway through the growing season. The summer solstice was seen as a time of change, nature, and new beginnings. It was also associated with fertility.
Summer Solstice Traditions
In order to banish any evil spirits that might harm their crops, the Celts would light bonfires, where they would sing, dance and feast. It was also customary for lovers to clasp hands and jump over bonfires. This was thought to bring luck to their relationship. Some believed the higher the lovers jumped, the higher their crops would grow.
Bonfires were lit on top of hills, at crossroads or in large openings. It was a time of great merriment.
They would also pray to the Sun Goddess, who the Irish Celts knew as Grainne (pronounced GRAWN-yah). She was both the Winter Queen and Solar Sun Goddess, who was thought to protect seeds during the winter and nurture them during the summer months.
Rag Tree Killary - A large part of the Summer Solstice traditions was about banishing evil spirits
What is the Celtic Name for Summer Solstice?
The Celtic druid name for the summer solstice is Alban Hefin, which means the The Light of the Shore or Light of Summer. The shore refers to the coast, an area where the worlds of land, water and sky meet - as Druidry valued places of in-between worlds. The light of the summer' refers to how the sunlight is cast as wide as it will ever be.
Crowning of the Oak King
In Neo-Pagan traditions, there is the legend of the Oak King versus the Holly King. On the 21st of June - the Oak King is at his strongest. Gradually his power weakens, until the Winter Solstice of 21st of December when the Holly King regains power again.
The Winter Solstice Newgrange
At the exact opposite end of the year, on the 21st of December is the Winter Solstice. Something magical happens on this day - the Winter Solstice. In the passage tomb of Newgrange, Co Meath, the rising sunlight creeps up the passage, illuminating the whole chamber. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, this day played a significant role in the life of the Neolithic farmers who built it over 5000 years ago.