The shortest and longest day have long been important milestones in the annual cycle. Since astronomical phenomena governed the way of life of people, ceremonies and holidays associated with these days arose in the cultural tradition of many peoples. Today, the duration of the summer and winter solstices is calculated to the nearest minute for many years to come.
With the arrival of spring, it becomes noticeable that the sun rises higher and higher above the horizon at noon and later hides behind it in the evening. Finally, at the beginning of summer, the luminary reaches its highest point - the summer solstice comes. The date of the longest day of the year varies by hemisphere and leap year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs on June 20, if there are 365 days in a year, and June 21, if there are 366. And in the Southern Hemisphere, in a leap year, the longest day is December 22, and in a normal year - December 21.
The longest day is followed by the shortest night. According to old Slavic beliefs, it was a magical time: the strength of useful plants increased many times, grooms were certainly shown to bewitching girls. Swimming before that day was strictly forbidden, as it was believed that devils were sitting in the water. On the summer solstice, the devils left the water until the beginning of August, so they bathed and doused themselves with water all day.
When pagan traditions were supplanted by Christian ones, this holiday was named the day of John the Baptist. And since John baptized by dipping into water, it turned out to be the day of Ivan Kupala. Planted on the fertile soil of ancient beliefs, the holiday took root and has survived to this day as a nationwide dousing.
In the old calendar, the day of the summer solstice and Midsummer's day coincided, but according to the new style, the holiday shifted to July 7.
After the summer solstice, the day begins to wane. Gradually, the Sun reaches its lowest point of ascent. In the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year occurs on December 21 or 22, and in the Southern Hemisphere on June 20 or 21, depending on whether it is a leap year or not. After the longest night, the countdown begins - now the day will begin to arrive until the summer solstice, and after that it will again decrease to the winter solstice.
The winter solstice was celebrated even in primitive communities, when, before the long winter, people slaughtered all the cattle that they could not feed, and made a feast. Later, this day received a different meaning - the awakening of life. The most famous holiday of the solstice is medieval Yule among the Germanic peoples. On the night after which the sun begins to rise higher, fires were burned in the fields, crops and trees were consecrated, and cider was brewed.
In Greek mythology, the lord of the underworld, Hades, was allowed to visit Olympus only two days a year - on the summer and winter solstices.
Later, Yule merged with the celebration of Christmas, adding pagan traditions to Christian traditions - for example, kissing under the mistletoe.