The sun will stand still today. Well, not literally, but it may feel that way.
Today, Tuesday June 21st is the summer solstice and the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The origin of the word solstice comes from a combination of Latin words meaning sun and to stand still. During this summer solstice, the sun will shine in the sky longer than any other day.
The solstice started at 7:28 a.m. EDT (11:28 UTC), and at 1:16 p.m. EDT, the sun will be the highest it ever gets in the sky. People all over the Northern Hemisphere are taking advantage of the extra daylight with plenty of festivals, parties and traditions.
The Celts & Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing & bonfires to help increase the Sun's energy. The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.
Perhaps the oldest, notable - or most publicized - is the Pagan Festival of Litha. The Druids, an ancient religion and culture, celebrate today as the wedding of Heaven and Earth, and it is one of the most important days in their calendar (they hold festivals eight times a year to mark stages in the solar and lunar cycles).
Druidism worships nature and believes in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers, as well as in divine guides. The religion has long been part of England's past, but has never been identified as an actual religion. However, at the festivities this year, druids will be celebrating for the first time as members of an established religion under British charity law. The classification means members of the ancient pagan tradition have mainstream status equal to the Church of England.
The largest celebration happens at Stonehenge on the Salisbury plain in southern England. Thousands of revelers, believers, spiritualists and tourists - some decked out in cloaks, flowers and robes - gather at what they believe to be the center of spiritualism to celebrate the longest day of the year.
Starting at midnight on the eve of the Solstice, a vigil is held through the night around the Solstice fire. It ends when the sun rises. This year Chief druid Arthur Pendragon led the incantations and celebrations. More than 18,000 people flocked to Stonehenge to witness or participate in the event. As the ritual has become more and more publicized, people have begun to come to Stonehenge not because they are druids or even share the same beliefs, but to have a good time. Young and old, believers and observers came to dance around the fire, star gaze and get a rare opportunity to hug the stones at Stonehenge. The 2011 celebrations got a bit out of hand, resulting in 20 arrests and 50 drug seizures. Of the 20 arrests, 11 were for drugs and five for public order offences.
The summer solstice is one of the rare occasions in the year when open access to the stones is allowed by English Heritage, custodians of the monuments.
The Stonehenge site is spread over 2,600 hectares of land. The famous stone circle at the center is surrounded by a landscape consisting of more than 350 burial mounds. The history of the site dates back to 3100 BC when native Neolithic people started the construction. Experts are still divided on whether Stonehenge served as a temple, a burial ground or an astronomy site, and nobody knows for sure just how the massive stones were erected in the first place.
But wait, not everyone gets to run around in the warm, never-ending sunshine today. While the Northern Hemisphere is celebrating its longest day, the Southern Hemisphere is gearing up for winter on this, their shortest day of the year. 'Down under' the equator temperatures are dropping and so is the sun. While the North Pole gets 24 hours of daylight today, the South Pole gets zero. I guess it's a good thing very few of us live in Antarctica!