Memorial Day may be viewed as the kick-off to summer (in the United States, anyway), but really, the summer solstice falls in the third week of June, between the 20th and 22nd — this day marks the time when the earth is tilted in a way that creates the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here are some interesting things you may not know about summer and the way people spend it.
The word “solstice” has Latin roots that reflect the fact that on the first day of summer, the sun appears to stand still in the sky around the middle of the day: “sol”, meaning sun, and “sistere”, meaning to be still. This illusion is the result of the way the earth is tilting on its axis.
Scandinavian countries celebrate midsummer in a big way, with huge festivals, parties, and bonfires. In Norway in 2010, one town set the world record for the largest-know bonfire, when this reached 132.71 feet in height!
Stonehenge is a popular gathering place for equinox aficionados: because one theory about the ancient stone arrangement is that it has to do with the celebration of the summer and winter solstices (the way the sun aligns with the stones suggests the druids used it to mark the occasion and celebrate), thousands of people travel there to witness it. Nearly 40,000 have made the trip on certain years.
In ancient Egypt, the summer solstice marked the New Year, because the constellation Sirius appeared in the sky, which they believed was responsible for the flooding of the Nile. This constellation is also where we get the phrase “the dog days of summer” — ancient Romans believed its appearance coincided with the rise in temperature during July and August.
The Eiffel Tower in France has a yearly growth spurt in the summer, when the heat causes the iron to expand and give the structure an extra six inches in height!
Summer is a popular time to travel: in the United States, people make over 650 million long-distance trips — the five top destinations are to the beach, to a famous city, a national park, a lake, and a resort.
July is the most popular month for ice cream in the year, with vanilla being the most commonly-sold flavor, followed by chocolate. Many people take advantage of other summer treats such as watermelon, which is made up of a whopping 92% water, and popsicles — the most popular flavor is cherry.