Saturday, June 09, 2018

Celebrate the Summer Solstice: An Opportunity for Outreach

This year the summer solstice falls on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in all U.S. and Canada time zones, specifically at 6:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time. It is the longest day of the year.  Even though it may be hotter in July and August, the days will be shorter as the earth moves in its ecliptical orbit away from the sun.

The celebration of the summer solstice offer a great opportunity to reach out into the community. In Scandinavian countries the summer solstice is associated with various midsummer festivities. Midsummer's Day is June 24. However, these festivities often preceded and follow that date. In many areas of the United States and Canada live the descendants of immigrants from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Their ancestors brought their midsummer traditions with them.

Even in communities that do not have a significant population of families of Scandinavian ancestry, a summer solstice celebration provides a way of reaching and engaging non-Christians in the community. Members of the community can not only be invited to join in the festivities but also to help in planning them. Christians and non-Christians get to mingle with each other and come to know each other better.

The focus of the summer solstice celebration should be on having fun together. There should be plenty of food, booths, prizes, outdoor games and activities, music, dancing, and bonfires. The celebration should be like a community block party.

But isn't the summer solstice a pagan religious festival. Yes and no. The summer solstice is basically an astronomical event. In Estonia it marks a change in the agricultural year, "the break between the completion of spring sowing and the hard work of summer hay-making." A number of practices associated with the summer solstice and Mid-Summer Day in Estonia and Scandinavian countries do predate Christianity in their origin. Some modern-day pagans also do observe the summer solstice as a solar festival.

On the other hand, many Americans and Canadians who are concerned about the environment also observe the summer solstice as well as Earth Day. The English Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist on June 24, Mid-Summer Day, which follows closely on the heels of the summer solstice. Since the Middle Ages June 24 has been one of the four Quarter Days. The other three Quarter Days are March 25, Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary ; September 29, Michaelmas, the feast day dedicated to the Archangel Michael, and December 25, Christmas, the feast of the Nativity of our Lord . In Great Britain and Ireland on the four Quarter Days servants were hired, school terms started, and rents and church tithes fell due.

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