Summer solstice: The meaning behind the longest day of the year

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Watch: Thousands attend summer solstice at Stonehenge

Thousands of people have marked the summer solstice by watching the sun rise over Stonehenge this morning.

Around 6,000 revellers gathered at the neolithic Wiltshire monument to celebrate the longest day of the year.

They encountered a chilly morning accompanied by clear skies as the sun glinted over the horizon at 4.49am.

This year was the first time members of the public have been allowed to attend the solstice in person since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic.

Wiltshire Police said the event passed off peacefully with around 6,000 people attending and just two arrests made.

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: People gather for sunrise at Stonehenge, on June 21, 2022 in Wiltshire, England. The summer solstice occurs on June 21st, it is the longest day and shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The 2022 summer solstice arrives at 5:14 a.m. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
The summer solstice was marked by thousands of revellers at Stonehenge. (Getty Images)

Superintendent Phil Staynings said: "This year's summer solstice – the first one celebrated as a public gathering at Stonehenge in three years – has been a success on many levels.

"Inevitably, there were some traffic delays approaching Stonehenge due to the sheer number of vehicles wanting to visit the site.

"But overall the whole event has passed off with no major incidents and the atmosphere remained convivial throughout – no doubt helped by the weather, which has been incredible this year."

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: People gather for sunrise at Stonehenge, on June 21, 2022 in Wiltshire, England. The summer solstice occurs on June 21st, it is the longest day and shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The 2022 summer solstice arrives at 5:14 a.m. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Revellers encountered a chilly morning accompanied by clear skies. (Getty Images)

Nichola Tasker, English Heritage's director of Stonehenge, said: "There was a warm, friendly atmosphere throughout, and everybody enjoyed a beautiful sunset and dawn.

"Summer solstice at Stonehenge is a major operation and we couldn't do it without the support of our partners, especially Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Council.

"We look forward to welcoming people to the summer solstice again next year."

What is the summer solstice?

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - JUNE 21: People gather for sunrise at Stonehenge, on June 21, 2022 in Wiltshire, England. The summer solstice occurs on June 21st, it is the longest day and shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The 2022 summer solstice arrives at 5:14 a.m. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
The annual event is also known as midsummer. (Getty Images)

The summer solstice, also known as midsummer, falls between 20 and 22 June every year in the northern hemisphere.

It occurs on the day when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, ensuring the longest period of daylight of the year.

The word 'solstice', which originates from Latin, means a stopping or standing still of the sun.

Why do people gather at Stonehenge?

The summer solstice is an important occasion for druids and pagans, who gather at Stonehenge to perform rituals.

The sun rises behind the Heel Stone, the ancient entrance to the stone circle, and rays of sunlight are channelled into the centre of the monument.

It is believed that solstices have been celebrated at Stonehenge for thousands of years.

The ancient stone circle is built along the solstice alignment of the summer sunrise and the winter sunset.

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND, UK - JUNE 20: British police foot patrol attended the Summer Solstice gathering to ensure security for visitors near the prehistoric monument known as Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England on Monday, June 20, 2022. (Photo by Vudi Xhymshiti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Wiltshire Police said the event passed off peacefully. (Getty Images)

English Heritage historian Susan Greaney said: "For neolithic people, sunlight would have been crucial – for warmth for them and their animals and for helping their crops to grow.

"It would have been relatively easy for prehistoric people to observe the rising and setting positions of the sun each day, and to mark these orientations from any given spot.

"It must have been important to align their monument with the movements of the sun but we may never know the exact reasons why.

"The longest day of the year would have perhaps been a time of celebration, with warm nights and long daylight making it the perfect time to gather together."

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