Harvest Sun — Celebrating the Solstice and the Bounty It Brings

Harvest Sun — Celebrating the Solstice and the Bounty It Brings

We can all take a deep breath.  The solstice has passed here in California and marks the beginning of summer, north of the equator.  While the meaning varies from one person to the next, we can collectively agree that it’s a season of celebration.  Children are free to gallivant, gardens are in full bloom, and markets are overflowing with the bounty of the local landscape.  While contemporary society looks to summer with anticipation of festivals, barbeques, and a certain amount of liberty that comes with the long, warm days, the June Solstice has a deep-rooted significance.  As the longest day of the year, where the sun sits highest in the sky, the solstice marks a changing season that can be felt in the humming air.  This is the beginning of the harvest and the celebration of man’s relationship with the land.

Before civilization, before global networking, before the advent of written communication, our ancestors knew that survival meant understanding the elements.  The Celtics and Slavs of Northern Europe celebrated what was known as Midsummer, or Litha, with great bonfires atop hills to glorify the sun, increase its energy, and bring luck to the coming harvest.[1]  Simultaneously, in Cambodia, the solstice symbolized the controlling nature of the cosmic forces and by recognizing these forces, through celebration and ritualistic prayers, harmony and health continued within the cycles of nature.[2]  On our very own continent, the importance of the solstice was acknowledged; ceremonial dances and celebration were held by different native societies to praise the sun, the physical manifestation of the Great Spirit and giver of life.[3]  Throughout the world, the ancients built massive temples to observe and honor the sun, and to host elaborate ceremonies for solar events to encourage growth and prosperity. The word “solstice” derives from the Latin word solstitium, which translates to “sun stands still”[4] and signifies the day that the North Pole is tilted towards the sun at the highest degree.  Since the beginning, agricultural societies around the planet received the late June day not only as a day for festivities, but as a reminder that the growing season has arrived and the gardens are nearly ripe for picking. 

Summer solstice is welcomed by many cultures around the world – both those of the past and the present.  While Stonehenge is thought to be epicenter of today’s solstice celebrations, massive fires and neighborhood feasts around the world welcome this time of year as well.  Here in Sonoma County, we are blessed with abundance.  The summer brings open farm stands and buzzing farmers’ markets, long days to enjoy the splendors of nature, and an overall revitalizing energy.  Although we no longer feel inclined to question whether the sun will bring food this year, we should take the opportunity to question who is bringing us our food? Are we confident that the food we are enjoying today will be available to us in the years to come? Are we honoring the planet and the abundance it offers us similarly to the way our ancestors did?

For our ancestors, the comings and goings of the sun was a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of time.  The solar calendar was important to understand so as to anticipate what was to come in the growing season.  Today, the significance of the solar calendar remains important to farmers, but has lost its influence in the most daily lives. While there is still something magical about this time of year, let's return to our roots and reconnect with the land.  Spend time in your garden (it’s not too late to plant greens, beets, or a fruiting tree); help your community glean the fields; visit your local farm stand or market with friends and family -- meet those that thrive to maintain the relationship between man, land, and the sun. Get inspired and get dirty!

[1] Matthews, John.  The Summer Solstice: Celebrating the Journey of the Sun from May Day to Harvest.  Godsfield Press. 2002.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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