Category Archives: Geography

The Midnight Sun

Today is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere , meaning that today marks the beginning of the summer in the Northern Hemisphere.From this day on the days , the nights begin to shorten and the days begin to lengthen.It is on this particular day of the year that the axis of the earth is at its maximum inclination towards the Sun at an angle of 23°26′.

The word ‘solstice’ is actually derived from the latin words sol which mean the Sun and sistere which mean to stand still.This is because the Sun is considered to be standing still on this day as it reaches its highest position.

The rays falling on the Earth on Summer Solstice.

In the Northern hemisphere, the summer solstice occurs on June 21st while in the Southern Hemisphere , it is on December 22th.It is on this day that the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky at all places above the Tropic of Cancer-23°26′ N(on 21st June) and below the Tropic of Capricorn-23°26’S (on 22nd December).But between these two latitudes, the highest position of Sun is not seen on the day of Summer Solstice.Though the Summer Solstice, like an eclipse occurs only for a particular instant of time, the day of its occurence is referred to the Summer Solstice.Some people wrongly understand that Sun remains at its highest position all throughout this day. This is not true.

The terms Midnight Sun(Polar Day) or Polar Night are also used to describe the phenomenon. During the Summer Solstice, all places situated on the Arctic Cricle-66.56° N see the Sun on the horizon at midnight and all places to the north of the Arctic Circle see the Sun for 24 hours. This popularly known as the Midnight Sun or the Midsummer Night Sun or the Polar Day. But in the Southern Hemisphere, all places located on the Antarctic Circle-66.56° S are able to see the Sun just at the horizon during midday and all places to the south of the Antarctic Circle do not see the Sun throughout this particular day. This is known as the Polar Night.

The number of days with midnight Sun per year increases as one moves towards the pole.In countries like Canada(especially Yukon and North-West territories) ,Sweden ,Denmark ,Alaska of USA ,Norway ,Finland ,Greenland have almost no sunset from the last week of April to the last week of August. But people getting affected by the midnight Sun in the Southern Hemisphere is low because there are not many number of permanent settlements to the south of the Antarctic Circle.

The term Midnight Sun has been used many times in the Shakespearean novel ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

The Summer Solstice is often related with many celebrations.In Germany,the midnight sun is known as Sommer-Sonnenwende.People gather around,to watch the bonfire and celebrate the solstice.In Austria, the solistice celebrated by a procession of thirty ships sailing in line down the Danube River.It lasts for about 90 minutes.In Brazil,it is celebrated as a part of the Festa Junina or June Festival which begins on June 12th which is St.Antony’s Day and ends on June 29th which is St.Peter’s Day.The people there erect a pole called the maypole. In Bulgaria,they celebrate this day as Enyovden.The people believe that certain herbs have great medicinal healing power on this particular day especially in the morning during sunrise and so they collect herbs on this day.

In Canada, the people celebrate this day as St.John’s Day.They light fire at night and burst crackers.In Crotia,the midnight sun is called Ivange.Bonfires are lit on beaches or lake shores for young people to dance around and jump over.In Denmark,the solstitial celebrations are called Sankt Hans aften.They put some straw and cloth together to build a witch which they burnt on this day.They also light bonfires on hilltops.In Finland the celebrations are called Ukon Juhla ,named after a Finnish god Ukko.Many bonfires are burnt side by side the largest of them being Ukko-kokko.Young birch trees are also kept on either side of the door to welcome people on this day. Even in Stonehenge (which is one among the seven wonders of the world)midnight sun is celebreted with great enthusiam.

The Midnight Sun at Stone Henge.

The French celebrate this day as the treat of St.John the Baptist.In Ireland there are many fairs and functions held and offerings are also made to the Irish deities.In Sweden a maypole is erected around which the people dance to traditional folksongs.They wear traditional dresses and sometimes crowns and wildflowers on their heads.It is celebrated with great importance here. People drink heavily.It is during this time that the potatoes and strawberries begin to grow here. In Spain,traditional parties are held in the honor of San Juan’s(St.John) and bonfires are lit along with bursting crackers on beaches.In Romania, the people Dragaica on this day.Young girls perform dance and one among them is chosen as the dragaica.She is dressed up as a bride while the others are dressed in white with  veil made of bedstraw.

In Poland the celebrations are called Noc Swietojariska.Young girls throw wreaths into the Baltic Sea.The celebrations begin at about 8 o’ clock in the night.In Latvia,the people eat a special kind of cheese called the Janu cheese and drink beer.They ligth the bonfire and sing songs in praise of Janu.The women wear traditional wreaths of flower and the men wear leaves.In Norway, the day is celebrated as St.John’s Day.In some places mock marriages are arranged which are considered to symbolise the  coming up of new life.

This is how people in different parts of the world celebrate Midnight Sun.Thus science has got linked up with various religious customs and traditional beliefs.