What Does “Solstice” Mean?

The summer solstice marks the longest day of the calendar year and the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. But what does the word solstice mean, and what does it have to do with Shakespeare?

The term solstice is derived from the Latin scientific term solstitium. Containing the Latin sol meaning “the sun” and sistere meaning “to make stand.” Today the term solstice is used to describe the exact moment when the sun reaches its northernmost point (around June 21) or southernmost point (around December 22) from the earth’s equator.

Summer lasts from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox, one of two times a year when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator, making night and day approximately equal length. Days lengthen from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, after which they begin to shorten.

William Shakespeare clearly had astronomy on his mind when he chose the title A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a tale of enchantment that takes place on midsummer’s eve, or, as we commonly refer to it, the summer solstice. Shakespeare is also credited with the first-known citation of the phrase “midsummer madness,” a line uttered by Olivia in Twelfth Night after encountering a cross-gartered Malvolio. This seasonal transition was thought to be a time when witches and other supernatural beings caused widespread mischief. Additionally, some plants were thought to possess magical healing powers and bonfires were thought to ward off malicious spirits. Midsummer’s Eve is a national holiday in Sweden and Finland.

How will you celebrate the upcoming solstice? Let us know.

Want to learn more about the difference between the equinox and the solstice? Read more here.