The longest day of the year and the shortest. Meaning and tradition
Twice a year, the sun passes the most distant points of the ecliptic from the celestial equator. With such a position of the luminaries relative to the Earth in the summer, the day length reaches a maximum, and in the winter - a minimum.
What is solstice?
This astronomical period is called the "Solstice". The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere usually falls on June 21st. In leap years, this date can be shifted by days.Sometimes the solstice falls on June 20th. The shortest winter day, and therefore the longest night, can be observed every year on December 21 or 22.
It is the summer solstice that is considered the day when the astronomical spring ends and the summer begins. Winter, according to astronomers, also comes not on the first of December and not on the day of the first snow, but only after the winter solstice.
The longest and shortest days of the year in pagan cultures
Unusual astronomical phenomena to people always seemed mysterious and significant. The emergence of comets, meteor showers, eclipses were too noticeable to exist "just like that." They had to have some secret meaning.
Similarly, our ancestors and the equinoxes, the shortest and the longest day, stood out. In the year there were only four such dates, but each had a special sacred meaning. They served as a kind of milestones between the seasons - and therefore also had special properties.
For the most dissimilar cultures these days caused the same associations. The day of the spring equinox necessarily turned out to be a holiday of rebirth, resurrection.
Echoes of these traditions are still visible - the symbol of spring Easter is the egg, the classic cosmogonic symbol of rebirth. Diametrically opposite in meaning was the day of the autumn equinox - the period of harvest, but also the time of the withering of nature, death. At this time, the afterlife is dangerously approaching the world of the living, and dark spirits come to light. Autumn Halloween is an obvious confirmation of this. Pumpkins as a symbol of the harvest, frightening filling of the holiday as an echo of the pagan traditions that connected this date with the world of the dead.
The dualism of the summer and winter solstice
People who had no idea about astronomy knew very well when the longest day and shortest day of the year was. The summer solstice is a celebration of the tumult of life, of its variegated, joyous flowering, a holiday of fertility. Therefore, the longest day of the year is a vital holiday, joyful and carefree. But the longest night of the winter solstice - a time surprising for its duality. This is a dark clock, when dark autumn spirits are rampant for the last time, but it’s also the hope of their speedy departure, of a cleansing world. This is nature's dream, deep as death.
The traditions of the Slavs, Gauls, Britons, the ancient Greeks wonderfully repeat each other. They are so imprinted in the memory of people that even some Christian holidays have a clear echo of paganism. There was a kind of imposition of tradition.
Summer Solstice in Slavic Culture
Although a logical question arises: why is the longest day of the year, and the shortest, and the days of equinoxes occur on Christian holidays? More precisely, if we take into account the chronology, why do Christian holidays fall on these days? This is hardly a coincidence.
Even the Christmas that we are celebrating on January 7th, in the old style, was two weeks earlier. And so what is the night before Christmas, everyone knows.
The longest day of the year is the feast of St. John the Forerunner. But this is also the crystal pagan holiday of Ivan Kupala - with jumping over the fire, night games, divinations, rampant evil forces, that is, spirits, forces of nature. The name of the holiday itself is a hybrid of Christianity and paganism. John the Baptist conducting the rite of baptism in water — and Kupala, the personification of a pagan feast, is the same as, for example, Maslenitsa.
The meaning of the summer solstice holiday
This is a celebration of grass, water and fire. A celebration of life, love and passion. The girls bathed naked in the dew, exchanged wreaths with the guys - the classic symbol of virginity and purity, jumped over the cleansing bonfire, holding hands. After all, this is not just entertainment. These are echoes of ancient marriage rituals. But already joint wandering around the night forest in search of a flower of a plant that is not able to bloom ... This was a completely different meaning - and it is clear to everyone. The longest day of the year was devoted to fertility, and therefore to the conclusion of marriage unions. Far from these treasure hunted these young people. Just in the night forest is empty and dark.Although the flower itself and endowed the lucky person who found him with extraordinary talents and luck.
From the point of view of the ancient Slavs, this was not at all depraved or immoral. The marriage union concluded on such a day should have been successful and happy. Children conceived by Ivan Kupala will be born beautiful, strong, healthy. And the very fact of concluding a union on this day, ritual passion in the night forest is a sacrifice, dedication to Kupala, the great element of life.
This aspect caused particular indignation of the church representatives. The longest day of the year, dedicated to the great Christian martyr, was filled not only with pagan, but very indecent meaning.
The longest night of the year is at Christmas. More precisely, accounted for before the calendar change. The night before Christmas was considered a time when devilry is particularly active. She rages and is angry, we need special rituals to protect against evil spirits. This has a completely innocent explanation - after all, Christ is about to be born, which means that the power of evil forces on earth will end. But there was a different meaning in everything. The world of the dead opened its doors on the day of the autumnal equinox, and all this time evil spirits gained strength. But the winter solstice completes this whirlwind.It is time for the spirits to return, so they freak out last night, not wanting to accept defeat.