June 21st will be the longest day of the year for 2013. Summer has become synonymous with sunshine, relaxation, pools, beaches, and family fun. We often forget the origins of our favorite time of the year.
Summer is the warmest season of the year and starts at the summer solstice and runs till the autumnal equinox. The word summer derives from Old Norse sumar, but ultimately is from Proto-Germanic. By the late 1500s to early 1600s, it locked into its current spelling.
Though modern observances of the summer solstice are rare, there were celebrations in ancient times in Europe, the British Isles, China, Egypt, North Africa, and Scandinavia. These include the celebration in ancient Egypt at the Temple of Amen-Ra at Karnak, starting around 3700 B.C.E., where a beam of light would illuminate a sanctuary in the temple’s interior for about two or three minutes on the day of the solstice. A similar phenomenon was observed at Stonehenge in southwest England. If one stands at the center of the monument and faces northeast along its axis, the 35-ton Heel Stone appears 256 feet away, marking the approximate place on the horizon where the sun rises on the summer solstice. Astronomers have discovered at least two dozen other solar and lunar alignments that the ancient builders of Stonehenge incorporated into its structure.
The solstice is one of the two times of year when the Sun’s apparent path is farthest north or south from the Earth’s equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice is on June 21 or 22, the longest day of the year. The situation is exactly the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, where the summer solstice is on December 21 or 22. The word solstice is from Latin solstitium, from sol ‘sun’ and sistere ‘to stand still,’ as it is regarded as a point at which the Sun seems to stand still. The word was first used in English around 1250.
Vacation is a word coming from Latin vacation/vacatio, from vacare ‘to be free, empty; to be at leisure.’ Around 1395, this term entered Old English, meaning ‘rest and freedom from any activity.’