Days to be longer

2017-06-21 06:00

TODAY Wednesday 21 June is the winter solstice when the sun reaches its furthest north position in the sky and starts moving back towards the south.

This marks one of the main turning points in the year from when the days will start becoming longer and the nights shorter.

In ancient times it was important for people to understand the seasons and weather, which played a key role in their lives.

The date of the June solstice, which in the northern hemisphere is the summer solstice, was an important source to help people manage their calendars and organise when to plant and harvest crops.

Some believe that Stonehenge in Britain, which was built around 3100 BC, was built to help establish when the summer solstice occurred. At Stonehenge, the sun rises at a particular point on the horizon as viewed from the centre of the stone circle on the day of the June solstice.

In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed with a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and “yang” forces. According to Chinese tradition, the shortest shadow is found on the day of summer solstice.

In many European countries, mid-summer festivals of celebration were held around the time of the June solstice.

In ancient Gaul, the mid-summer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses.

In North America, some tribes held ritual dances to honour the sun.

The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals during the June solstice. Preparations for the dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos.

Compared to the summer solstice on 21 December, today is three hours and 17 minutes shorter than on 21 December, and a much longer night.

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