Feature photo courtesy of Quark passenger Mitch.
In Northern Europe, they call it Midsummer, or St. John's Day, after the early Christian martyr John the Baptist. The Japanese take to the streets to celebrate their much-loved solar goddess Amaterasu (Shinto) each July. In Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of the Summer Solstice; to the ancient Romans, goddess Juno was responsible for the one day each year with more daylight than any other.
Solstice comes from the Latin sol (sun) and sister (to stand still). Deep in the southern hemisphere, Summer Solstice comes to Antarctica between December 20 and 23. As the hazy pastels of the sun at its most powerful fall over the ice-covered landscape, it does seem to stand still – in fact, all of time seems unmoving.
Solstice marks the point at which the tilt of the planet's semi-axis is most inclined towards the sun. Daylight is continuous. Travelers may watch the sun seem to roll along the horizon only to come back up again, or tuck down in behind a mountain range only briefly before flooding the glaciers with light.
Last year, the sky was so captivating several passengers and crew aboard the Ocean Diamond camped out on the 7th continent, to witness the beauty from their tents. Watch this beautiful time-lapse video from their amazing evening:
It's an ethereal experience and one that few people on this Earth will ever know.
Solstice is celebrated in different ways around the world, in the season in which it occurs in different geographical areas. The occasion is steeped in historic folklore, tracing back to Neolithic times.
In Bulgaria, it is believed that anyone who sees the sun rise on the solstice will be healthy over the next year. In Norway, the solstice is Sankthansaften and is marked by large, celebratory bonfires across the country and in Western Norway, by mock wedding ceremonies for children and adults alike. The Portuguese celebrate the solstice as part of a days-long series of midsummer festivities called the Santos Populares – literally the celebration of Popular Saints.
The ancients had great respect for the sun at its zenith. The axis of Stonehenge is aligned with its entrance, which is oriented in the direction of the midsummer sunrise. In Mexico, the pre-Columbian Teotihuacan Temple of the Sun was also oriented to the sun's passage at the Summer Solstice. The Celts and many other ancient groups believed the beginning of day on the solstice occurred at dream-time or nightfall. Many Native American tribes honored the solstice and the Great Spirit with the holy and ceremonial Sun Dance.
In Antarctica, we don't mark the solstice with street fairs or massive bonfires, but with quiet reverence and intense appreciation.
If you plan to join us on an Antarctic Explorer, Antarctica's Scotia Arc or Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica cruise this upcoming season or next, try to come early in the season to enjoy the solstice. There are a lot of other reasons to travel to Antarctica early, too – you won't believe how active the penguins are in November and December.
Remember your camera; the photography opportunities in Antarctica during the solstice are out of this world!
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