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Johann Piber | Pexels

The Early 2024 Summer Solstice, Indigenous Celebrations, And A Strawberry Moon To Boot! 

This year’s solstice is extra special; make sure you don't miss out!

In 2024, the summer solstice will occur on Thursday, June 20, at precisely 20:51 GMT. 

That’s 2:51 PM for those of us in Alberta.

This moment marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, known as the longest day and shortest night of the year.

And this year, the solstice occurs at its earliest in 228 years!

This year, we’ll also get an extra bonus: a huge strawberry moon will appear a day after the solstice.

Let’s break it all down.

Astronomical Definition of the Solstice

The summer solstice occurs when the Earth’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the Sun. 

Earth rotates on its axis once daily, creating the cycle of day and night while simultaneously orbiting the Sun once over a year. 

The axis of Earth’s rotation is tilted at approximately 23.44 degrees relative to its orbital plane around the Sun. This tilt is responsible for the changing seasons as different parts of the Earth receive varying amounts of sunlight throughout the year.

During the summer solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is at its maximum tilt towards the Sun. 

This results in the Sun reaching its highest point in the sky, creating the longest period of daylight. 

Conversely, the Southern Hemisphere experiences its winter solstice, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year. 

These solstices, along with the equinoxes, are critical in defining the Earth’s seasonal cycle.

This composite image shows the Sun's path during three different events: summer solstice (top path), winter solstice (bottom path), and equinox (central path). The bright Sun corresponds to noon on the equinox
This composite image shows the Sun’s path during three different events: summer solstice (top path), winter solstice (bottom path), and equinox (central path). The bright Sun corresponds to noon on the equinox | György Soponyai | Royal Museums Greenwich | Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021

An Early Riser?

The solstices in June and December fall within a specific date range. 

June’s solstice typically occurs on either June 20 or 21, while December’s solstice takes place on December 21 or 22. 

According to Ethan Siegel on Big Think, the summer solstice in 2024 will be the earliest the Earth has experienced since 1796! Back when George Washington was President of the United States, Edward Jenner pioneered his smallpox vaccine in England, and the capital of Upper Canada was moved from Newark to York

A Strawberry Moon

June’s full Strawberry Moon will rise one day after the summer solstice, making it the lowest full moon of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The moon will reach its fullest on June 21, just after the solstice.

This lunar event is known as the Strawberry Moon, a name derived from Native American traditions referring to the ripening of wild strawberries in June. 

Other Native American names for this full moon include the Berries Ripen Moon, Green Corn Moon, and Hot Moon, highlighting its significance to Indigenous peoples and their wild harvest and agricultural cycles. 

The best time to view the full moon from North America will be on the evening of Friday, June 21, when it rises in the east near sunset. 

For optimal viewing, check your local moonrise and moonset times and choose a location with a clear view of the eastern horizon.

June's full Strawberry Moon will be the lowest full moon of 2024
June’s full Strawberry Moon will be the lowest full moon of 2024 | Bogdan Pigulyak | Getty Images | via Live Science

Cultural Significance of the Summer Solstice

The summer solstice has been celebrated by various cultures worldwide for centuries. 

It symbolizes light, abundance, and the warmth of summer, often associated with feelings of happiness and well-being..

Ancient Celebrations

  • Ancient Greece: The summer solstice marked the beginning of the New Year and a countdown to the Olympic Games. It also coincided with Kronia, a festival honouring Cronus, the god of agriculture.
  • Ancient Rome: The Romans celebrated with Vestalia, a festival dedicated to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Women offered gifts to Vesta in exchange for blessings on their families.
  • Ancient China: The solstice was a time to honour the Earth, femininity, and yin. Traditions included dragon boat races, a practice that continues today.

European Traditions

Before Christianity spread across Europe, Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic communities celebrated Midsummer with feasting and bonfires. 

These bonfires were believed to ward off evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest. Couples would jump through the flames to predict the height of the year’s crops.

Indigenous Celebrations in Canada

The summer solstice holds profound cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. 

June 21, recognized as National Indigenous Peoples Day, coincides with the solstice and celebrates the rich diversity, history, resilience, and cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

Indigenous communities have long observed this day, marking the arrival of warm weather and the beginning of a new season. 

Ceremonial sun dances and other cultural activities are part of the celebrations, emphasizing the deep connection between Indigenous traditions and the natural world. 

Canada’s official recognition of this day since 1996 highlights its importance in honouring the contributions and heritage of Indigenous Peoples.

So get out and celebrate the solstice this year, attend an Indigenous Peoples celebration in Alberta, watch for that Strawberry Moon, and feel the warmth of summer begin!

Summer sunset | ABM College
Summer sunset | ABM College

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