How To Celebrate The Summer Solstice Virtually This Year
This year will be the first time in decades that tens of thousands of people don't gather at Stonehenge in late June to ring in the summer solstice, due to travel restrictions for the coronavirus. On the bright side, it's also the first year this spectacle will be livestreamed for the rest of the world to see.
What's the significance of the summer solstice at Stonehenge?
Visitors usually gather at Stonehenge the night before the summer solstice and camp out so they can watch the sunrise together. In addition to being the official start of summer, the solstice is the day of the year when the sun shines for the longest in the northern hemisphere due to the tilt of the Earth's poles.
Stonehenge is a monument constructed of massive rocks that are perfectly placed to frame the sunrise of the summer solstice, as well as the sunset of the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year, which happens in December). It's become an unofficial gathering place for these seasonal transitions.
As for what makes Stonehenge so special, for starters it's incredibly old. Some estimates say it was built in 2600 B.C. To this day we don't really know why or how it was constructed, which adds a veil of mystery to it. Historians have figured out that it's extremely unlikely that the framing of the solstice is a coincidence, so its builders must have devised a system for capturing exactly where the sun falls on solstice days and arranging multi-ton rocks around it—an impressive feat that's even more mind-boggling when you consider the fact that they did it without any modern technology.
Some religious groups like modern-day Druids and Pagans have a more spiritual connection to Stonehenge and see it as a grounds for ritual and worship. Others gather there on the solstice simply to celebrate the start of summer and kick the season off in a beautiful place.
How and when can I watch it from home?
Come this weekend, we'll all be able to "visit" this historic site in true 21st-century fashion: By tuning into it on our smartphones or computers. "We hope that our livestream offers an alternative opportunity for people near and far to connect with this spiritual place at such a special time of year," Nichola Tasker, Stonehenge director, said in a statement.
The livestreamed sunrise will take place at 4:52 a.m. BST on Sunday, June 21 (11:52 p.m. EST and 8:52 p.m. PST on Saturday, June 20), on the Facebook channel of English Heritage, a charity that manages historic places in the U.K. Here's a link to check it out.
The summer solstice is a welcome reminder that even during times of hardship, the natural world around us is still carrying on. Those of us in the northern hemisphere can use it as a time to consider how we want to show up in our community and be there for others over the next few months as things continue to open up. After all, the word summer has been traced to the root sem, meaning "together as one," so this a time to support each other from afar. Here's hoping that by the time the winter solstice rolls around, we can do so together, too.
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