As far back as time can tell, the summer and winter solstices have been an important part of our existence, celebrated by cultures all over the world to welcome the warm, long summer days or embrace the dark, winter nights and all the magic the half-lit sky brings.
We have solstices twice a year, once in June and once in December, which is when the sun is at the highest point in the sky. The reason we have solstices is because the Earth orbits the sun at an angle of approximately 23.5 degrees, so as the Earth moves the north to south position of the sun changes over the course of the year. When the Earth is at its maximum tilt, this is then when we will have either the summer or winter solstice.
Did you know that the word solstice comes from two Latin words? Sol which means ‘sun’ and sistere which means ‘to stand still’.
The summer solstice falls around mid-June (in 2020 it will be on Saturday 20th June) and marks the start of summer, with the longest day of the year, for those in the northern hemisphere.
Those who are in the southern hemisphere, in such places as Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, will have a summer solstice in December.
The UK is home to one of the most popular summer solstice sites, Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Every year, many gather around the ancient monument to celebrate the start of summer and to watch the sunrise through the Heel Stone, a tradition first established by our ritualistic ancestors - or so we think!
No one knows why the 10,000-year-old Neolithic monument was built, but experts are sure of one thing: its unique horseshoe shape is no coincidence - it has been built to face the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset, making the summer solstice not just a phenomenon, but a spiritual celebration.
The celebrations will be a little different this year though as Stonehenge will be closed, however you can watch it live via English Heritage.
Although the summer solstice is celebrated in many different cultures around the world, did you know that Lapland is known as ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’? This is because during the summer months, we have something called polar days where the nights are short and very, very light. It is so light above the Arctic Circle during this period that there’s a village in the northernmost point of Finland where the sun doesn’t set at all for a few weeks!
From the day after the summer solstice, the days become shorter, and when winter finally starts to set in in Lapland, the real fun begins.
The summer solstice’s polar opposite (no pun intended), the winter solstice, waves goodbye to the warm sunshine and welcomes colder, shorter days. It’s not all doom and gloom - we promise!
The solstice falls mid-December and in 2020 it will be celebrated on 21st December.
The winter solstice is when Lapland comes alive. This special occasion marks the start of shorter days, allowing more time to experience the night and the magic that comes with it – the Northern Lights.
Also called the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are a natural light show in the night sky. Although these natural flashes of colour happen all year round, they can only be viewed by the human eye during the winter months.
Many people try to chase these mystical lights, but there is no telling how or when they will appear, making them all the more mysterious. We do know however that the most ideal time to see lights is mid-winter, between November and February. This is because the nights are the longest and you are more likely to catch a glimpse of their blue, green and purple shimmers in the sky - even in the morning or the afternoon.
In Santa’s Lapland there is one hotel which makes it possible to see the Northern Lights from the comfort of your room! The Star Arctic Hotel, which is available on our Santa’s Aurora trip, is located on the top of the fell in Saariselkä and all rooms have north-facing windows, perfect for viewing the Northern Lights.
Or, you can join the optional Northern Lights Adventure, where you’ll travel by snowmobile through the woods of Saariselkä to a quiet, uninhabited location for the best viewing positions away from any artificial lights.
As the Northern Lights can be quite mysterious and clear skies are needed, we cannot guarantee that you will see them on your visit to Lapland.
Want to learn more about our holidays in Lapland? As well as having the chance to witness the Northern Lights for yourself, you’ll even be able to meet Santa, enjoy a reindeer sleigh ride and go on many more sled-filled adventures for all the family.