Solstice Is Coming, But Summer is Here Now

An exchange on The Wild Hunt as to when the “summer festival season” properly began led a commenter to post this link in response to the statement that summer begins on June 21.

I hear idiot television newspeople (but I repeat myself) saying that all the time at this point in the year.

From The Straight Dope:

There is a widespread misconception in this country–which extends, I might note, to the makers of most calendars, dictionaries, and encyclopedias–that summer “officially” starts on the day of the summer solstice, June 21 or 22, which is the longest day of the year. Americans also believe (1) that there is some valid scientific reason for doing it that way, and (2) that everybody in the Northern Hemisphere does it that way, and always has.

None of these things is true. So far as I have been able to discover, no scientific or governmental body has ever formally declared that summer starts on the solstice. . . . .

“It isn’t really clear how the astronomical definition [i.e., summer starts on the solstice] got started,” says Kevin Trenberth, a climate researcher at the University of Illinois in Urbana. “Although the sun-earth geometry is clearly the origin of the seasons on earth, it has nothing directly to do with temperature or weather.”

He notes that meteorologists define summer simply as June, July, and August. “For practical purposes, the meteorological definition is the best one, being very closely to the [weather] statistics,” he says.

In fact, it appears that June 1 was accepted as the beginning of summer in the United States until relatively recently.

Go the link to read the part about when summer used to be calculated in Ireland—not May 1, as some might think.

The moment of  the summer solstice is 1716 hours UTC, June 21st. Track your solar festivals here.


  1. Philip Heselton says:

    One might say that theoretically the Summer Solstice was the middle of summer, not the beginning! However, obviously it varies from year to year and from place to place!

  2. Pitch313 says:

    We more or less urbanites probably have few reasons or promptings to notice the turnings of the seasons according to the signs and indicators of our locales. Most of us don’t, after all, conduct our ordinary lives in close relationships with natural spaces. Calendars pretty much work to define urban seasons.

    I found that my attentions for such seasonal indicators changes appreciably as I took up cross-country mountain biking several times a week throughout the year. Even though I was a veteran hiker and backpacker when I began riding. In addition to being a life-long Pagan. Frequent riding led me to pay attention with a different sort of valuing of seasonal signs.

  3. meg says:

    I’ve always considered June 21 to be the second summerfest with Betaine being the last spring and first of the summer festivals.

  4. Maggie Beaumont says:

    I can’t cite sources, but my grade school teacher’s understanding was that the solstices and equinoxes were the “only” (sic) celestial markers of the seasons. She pointed out, though, that June 21 used to be know as “Midsummer’s Day” and thought American calendar makers had just co-opted the solar dates.

  5. Mr. Adams may be smart, but he apparently doesn’t know anything about medieval Irish. In Irish sources that date from the Old Irish period (i.e. more than a millennium before 1938, the date of his source–which is anything but authoritative), Imbolc is the start of Spring and Beltaine is the start of Summer.