How can it be almost June 21? The summer solstice is nearly here, which means almost half the year has passed us by. I don’t know about you, but I swear each year goes faster than the last. Another half year and it will be Christmas.
Oh my! Oh my!
The word "solstice" has Latin roots: sōl sistere means "the (apparent) standing still of the sun," according to the World English Dictionary. The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines it as this: "The two occasions each year when the position of the sun at a given time of day does not seem to change direction."
Of course, the sun does not stop. Because it’s at the zenith, the sun seems for a few days before and a few days after the solstice to remain in a fixed place.
Astronomy is fascinating. When one is outside on a clear summer evening looking up at the stars, it’s easy to imagine what thoughts the ancients may have had. It is an absolute wonderment because in spite of all we know and the amazing photographs we can see courtesy of NASA, pondering the immensity of space gives us pause.
In years past, the solstice was a time for celebrating since the plants were in and the daylight had returned in full force. This was usually a time when hopes were high and people were ready for adventure, a time of enchantment when fairies and elves could roam.
Shakespeare’s well-known play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” uses the solstice as background and acknowledges the magic and mischief of summertime. The world of people and the world of fairies collide in some funny situations. The play champions the idea that whatever is dreamed this night will come to pass, with potions and charms gone awry and Puck exclaiming in Act 3, Scene 2 the often-quoted words, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Our neighborhood in Connecticut turned over in the 35 years we lived there. Young families moved in with ideas for fun and the desire to make the neighborhood more cohesive. One year, two of the neighborhood families, the Gacciones and the Barefoots, threw a summer solstice party and started a tradition.
These young neighbors didn’t grow up celebrating the day; they just decided the longest day of the year was a good time to celebrate. All the daylight was available to use up, so an old idea become new.
It happened that our daughter, Melissa, and her three young children were visiting that first time, and most of our family members were able to make the celebration other years. Each occasion was an enchanted night of fun for everyone, both old and young, with good food, great music, games and a mingling opportunity to meet all the neighbors who were glad for some family-type midsummer madness to celebrate. Any early fireflies glittering about added to the aura, almost making us believe there really was magic on that night.
Fireflies are one of the summer joys we miss about Connecticut — well them and the beaches. As our kids were growing up, and then our grandkids, they would catch fireflies in jars with holes in the top and watch them light up. After a while, they would let them go and watch as they twinkled away into the night sky.
There aren’t any fireflies in Utah, but with daylight saving time there is plenty of beautiful lingering twilight to enhance such a celebration.
A quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain states: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Or, as our neighbors did, throw a midsummer party.