Definition: Solstice - Word of the Week

Definition: Solstice

Noun: A solstice happens twice a year, when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, as seen from the North or South Pole.

The word "solstice" is formed from two Latin words; one for "sun" sol and one for "stand" sistere.

Summer solstice is the longest day of the year and winter solstice is the shortest.

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter solstice is around the 21st December and June 21st in the summer. In the Southern Hemispheres, the solstices are reversed.


According to some copies of the Ancient Greek calendar, summer solstice was the first day of the year. It also marked the one-month countdown to the opening of the Olympic Games.

The ancient Chinese participated in a ceremony during summer solstice to honor the earth, femininity and "yin". It was the opposite of the winter solstice ritual, which was devoted to the heavens, masculinity and "yang".

Many Native American tribes took part in ancient summer solstice traditions. Some are still practiced today. For example, the Sioux have a sun dance that takes place around a tree while wearing symbolic colors.

Modern Day Traditions

Winter solstice celebrations are still very traditional today.

Last week, our own blog editor Candida celebrated the solstice by hiking to a stone circle in Avebury, which is one of the UK's best known prehistoric sites!

Our Santa Barbara students can join in the fun as there is a special Summer Solstice Celebration taking place between June 22nd and 24th.

For any of our students taking an English course in Salisbury, the ancient ruins of Stonehenge is a great place to visit. Every year, thousands of druids and pagans gather there to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.

Avebury Stone Circle: A traditional location for solstice celebrations
Avebury Stone Circle: A traditional location for solstice celebrations

Do you know of any solstice traditions where you are from? Will you be doing anything to celebrate?

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