Can I be honest? I always feel a little hypocritical celebrating the Summer Solstice.
Oh, I know – without the Sun there could be no life on Earth. The longest day is worth celebrating. Ra, Helios, and Apollo are all Sun Gods worthy of worship and honor. And I’m part of a modern Druid tradition that places great importance on the Summer Solstice, even if those 19th century Druids did decide to celebrate at Stonehenge six months out of phase.
There are plenty of good reasons to celebrate the Summer Solstice. I just don’t much like it.
Mainly, it’s hot. I’ve spent 59 of my 61 Summer Solstices in the South: in Tennessee, in Georgia, and now in Texas. Memorial Day may be the “official” start of Summer, but the Solstice is when the serious heat usually begins. July and August are miserable. I can tell you the forecast for every day until after Labor Day: highs in the low 100s, lows around 80, and if we get rain it will come with storms that may knock out the power and with it, the live-preserving air conditioning.
Somebody tell me again why humans settled here before there was air conditioning? Oh yeah, we’re stubborn. And greedy. If there’s an open patch of land, somebody’s going to build a house on it. And then start planting crops and grazing animals.
Arctic, tropics, deserts, mountains, swamps – doesn’t matter. We’re adaptable. In all seriousness, that’s a significant evolutionary advantage. Our closest genetic relatives – the chimpanzees – are limited to a relatively narrow band around the equator. Other apes are even more limited in geographical range.
Not us. We live where ever the hell we want. Or in my case – and the case of most people, I think – where ever the hell we end up. I had some big plans in my youth – a lot of them have worked out. None of them included living my whole life in oppressive heat. But that’s what I’ve done.
And it’s not just the heat – it’s the light. The longest day is nothing to celebrate.
I just got back from two weeks in Alaska, where the weather is decidedly cooler, but the days are dramatically longer. Cathy and I spent two nights in Fairbanks. Sunset was right at midnight – sunrise was before 4:00 AM. It never got fully dark. Sleeping was a challenge. The locals talked about how great it was, but that’s because they live there in the Winter when they get almost no sunlight.
I know, I know – this is the tradeoff for the mild Texas Winters. It doesn’t get very cold here… until it does. But the older I get, the less I tolerate the heat, even with air conditioning.
And I’ve never liked it.
It’s not just the excessive heat and light. I see the occasional meme about how much fun Summers were as a kid. I’m glad someone’s were. Because mine weren’t. I lived on a small farm, with no one within walking distance – before the internet, and before cable TV. My father was a child of the Great Depression – for him, security meant growing your own food. I’m not talking about a garden. I’m talking two huge vegetable gardens, and then acre after acre of corn and potatoes. Which, of course, I was drafted to work in.
I’m one Pagan who’s never had any romantic notions about “the agricultural cycle.”
Pagans celebrate the Wheel of the Year, not the Wheel of the Seasons We Like. And without the Sun, there really would be no life on Earth. And all those Sun Gods are worthy of honor and praise.
So I will mark today as the longest day, and celebrate that for the next six months, it will get a little darker every day.
I’ll mark today as the height of the Sun’s power, knowing that even though the worst of Summer is still ahead of us, Fall is coming.
And I’ll go outside after sunset tonight, because even though Shakespeare didn’t get it exactly right, there really is magic at Midsummer.