In 2023, the longest day of the year falls on Wednesday 21 June – the same date as last year – although it can be any date between 20th and 22nd of the month.
This is known as the summer solstice, and it is a time of great importance for some religions, while for other people, it is simply a day to enjoy the (hopefully) bright summer weather well into the evening.
When is the 2023 summer solstice?
According to Greenwich Museums, the summer solstice will take place on Wednesday 21 June at 3.58pm.
It says: “While most people consider the summer solstice to be a day, it is in reality an exact moment in time that falls upon that day. This moment comes when whichever hemisphere you’re in is most tilted towards the Sun.”
The summer solstice marks the beginning of summer by the astronomical calculation, with the season lasting until the autumnal equinox, which this year lands on Saturday 23 September.
The simpler meteorological definition splits the year into four seasons of three full months apiece, with summer beginning on 1 June and lasting until 31 August.
What time is sunrise?
According to the website Time and Date, on the date of the solstice the sun will rise in London at 4.43am, and set at 9.21pm, delivering 16 hours, 38 minutes and 22 seconds of daylight to the capital.
And in Lerwick, on the Scottish island of Shetland, the sun will rise at 3.38am and set at 10.34pm – with 18 hours, 55 minutes and 35 seconds of daylight.
You can find the times of the sunrise and sunset where you live here.
What does the summer solstice mean?
The summer solstice marks the date of the longest period of daylight and the shortest night of the year, when the Earth’s north pole has its maximum tilt towards the sun.
Slightly confusingly, as well as kicking off the astronomical season, the solstice can also be known as midsummer – because the days begin to get shorter after it has passed.
Conversely, the winter solstice (or midwinter), which tends to fall around the 21 December, marks the shortest day of the year and the start of the astronomical season.
Equinoxes get their name from the Latin for “equal night”, and mark the only two points in the year when the equator is the closest part of Earth to the sun.
For six months each of the year, either the northern or southern hemisphere is pointing slightly more towards the sun, bringing the warmer temperatures of spring and summer.
The autumnal and spring equinoxes mark when the two hemispheres swap over, while the summer and winter solstices denote the sun reaching its most northerly and southerly points.
What happens at Stonehenge on the summer solstice?
In the UK the iconic image of druids gathering at Stonehenge has become synonymous with the solstice, which has been associated with paganism for thousands of years.
Known by pagans as Litha, the solstice marks the only day that the rising run reaches the middle of the stones when shining on the formation’s central altar, and draws large crowds each year.
It’s free to attend, and you can find more details here, but if you’re can’t go in person people from around the world can enjoy the spectacle from their homes thanks to a live stream.
There are various other celebrations marking the longest day of the way that take place around the world.
Spain, for example usually celebrates midsummer with a traditional party in honour of Saint John the Baptist, held on the evening of 23 June.
Despite the Christian elements, the pagan origins of the festivities are honoured with the widespread lighting of bonfires, and the gathering of traditional medicinal plants.
In Mongolia, shamanism is widely regarded as the national religion, but it was banned for 70 years under communist rule, and has had a resurgence since 1992 – the shamanic fire rituals attached to the summer solstice therefore serving a vital cultural purpose.
Although to people in the UK the maypole is more commonly seen in the month of May, in Sweden the ‘majstång’ (or ‘midsommarstång‘) is associated with the period of the solstice.
Beyond erecting and dancing around the pole, Swedish traditions such as decorating homes with greenery still endure, with midsummer’s eve a de facto public holiday.
In Ukraine, midsummer celebrations are (like those in Spain) held in honour of John the Baptist, known as Ivan Kupala.
Ivan Kupala Day takes on many of the pagan origins attached to the solstice, with young men and women leaping over flames to cleanse themselves of ill fortune.