The countdown is on: the official start of summer is almost here. Solstice takes place on Tuesday, June 20 at exactly 9:24 p.m., marking the longest day of the year.
Science geeks know that we get the most daylight all year on that day not because Earth is closer to the sun but because it is most inclined toward that burning star — in other words, the tilt of the Earth's axis lets rays of sunlight hit the hemisphere more directly.
If nothing else, it's a great excuse to party.
"Solstice is one of my favourite times of year," says Whistler musician, author, and arts advocate Stephen Vogler. "After a long, cold winter, it's glorious to have those long days and warm nights. Patios come to life, you can live on your bicycle, swim in the lakes, barbecue, and party late into the night. It doesn't get much better than that."
And while the days start getting shorter thereafter, there's no need to start grumbling about it being all downhill from here just yet. There are plenty of sunny ways to celebrate.
Sea to Sky solstice fun
The Whistler Cycling Club (WCC) holds its Summer Solstice Ride and Picnic on June 18. (Since this year's solstice is on a Tuesday, many events fall on the weekend before or after.) Depending on their motivation, determination, energy, and ability, cyclists have 40-, 70-, 110-, and 150-kilometre routes to choose from. The well-deserved après takes place at Florence Petersen Park.
"The WCC summer solstice ride is inclusive, with ride starts timed so all groups arrive back at the post-ride social and picnic at the same time," says Ken Chaddock, a founding member who's on the board of directors. "Our theme with this ride is participation, in keeping with the enthusiasm and inclusiveness of previous years. The event is special in that rider turnouts are usually double or triple that of most of our club rides. Plus, more cyclists visible to drivers adds a comfort level knowing drivers will be more aware of cyclists on a given stretch of highway."
Hard-core mountain bikers have the extra sunshine to get them through the Sp'akw'us 50 Marathon Mountain Bike Race on June 24. ("Sp'akw'us" means bald eagle in the Squamish Nation language, Sk_wx_wú7mesh.) Starting at Garibaldi Springs Golf Course, the roller-coaster ride features all sorts of tricky corners, winding climbs, and even a nasty hike-a-bike section. There are also prime spots for nonbikers to plop down their lawn chairs to take in the action, while the Lil Sp'akw'us Kids Race is geared toward future riders.
A "Sin and Gin Joint" will be set up at the Point Activist-Run Centre on June 24 for the centre's Summer Solstice Fundraiser. The 1940s-themed party features Vancouver swing jazz band Swing 2 Beat, a three-chef cook-off, fine wines, silent and live art auctions, and dancing.
The longest day of the year is the perfect time for a few sun salutations, and to that end, the Squamish Sea to Sky Gondola is holding its Summer Welcome With Yoga on June 17. As the kickoff to the glorious spot's summer yoga series, the event features four different sessions, the last one including meditation. The Squamish Valley artists' collective known as Visuals will be onsite for summer solstice wreath making and nature crafts.
Just past Pemberton's North Arm Farm, Frankie's Ranch is holding Summer Solstice 3.0 from June 16 to 18, a three-day glamping experience on the banks of Birkenhead River, complete with a full lineup of DJs.
Other local events that may not be specifically tied to solstice, but no doubt take advantage of the long days, include the Tenderfoot Boogie, which sees serious runners pounding all sorts of terrain throughout the Sea to Sky corridor. Those doing the 50-mile Ultra race, which starts at the Squamish Adventure Centre and ends at Meadow Park, have to sign in at 4:30 a.m. Alternative courses are the 50-kilometre Endurance race, the 28-kilometre Lightning race and the 13-kilometre Sprint.
On the morning of June 24, the Sea to Sky Scramble Trail Run takes place, a challenging six-kilometre grind with one kilometre of vertical to the Sea to Sky Gondola Summit Lodge.
While sunshine-splashed bike rides and yoga sessions are quintessential West Coast ways to celebrate summer solstice, unique traditions exist all over the globe.
In the U.K., thousands of people, some dressed up as druids, gather at the prehistoric site of Stonehenge to see the sun align perfectly with a central altar called the Heel Stone. (Because of recent terrorist attacks in the country, extra security measures will be in place this year.)
In Fairbanks, Alaska, the Fairbanks Goldpanners have played a midnight baseball game for 112 years. The Secret Solstice event in the Reykjavík land of the midnight sun is a 72-hour long music festival. This year's lineup includes Foo Fighters, the Prodigy, Richard Ashcroft, and the Young M.A., while smaller shows take place inside a lava tunnel, a glacier, and on a boat at sea.
The afternoon of midsummer's eve in Sweden is spent dancing around a large pole decorated with flowers and branches, while the night itself is all about eating with family and friends.
Throughout Norway, fires blaze into the night, a longstanding practice believed to reflect the sinking flame of the sun. The celebration known as Slinningsbålet in the city of Alesund centres on an enormous bonfire — one that takes 40 people several days to make out of wooden crates on a rocky islet.
Happy, sexy solstice
No wonder people feel the urge to celebrate on and around summer solstice; seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is far more common during winter's short, dark days than in the bright months of July and August. Researchers have even turned to social media to see how seasons and daylight affect mood. A 2011 study out of Cornell University looked at emotional content of random tweets of 2.4 million people from all over the world. They found that what had the greatest effect wasn't the absolute amount of daylight but the relative change in that daylight — whether the day was longer or shorter than the one that came before. As days got longer, approaching summer solstice, people were found to express significantly higher positive affect than when days were getting shorter.
And while a single day of the year can't be credited for boosting people's libidos, summertime in general can.
"People often feel more energetic and positive when the sun shines and the days are longer, and this energy can definitely contribute to people feeling more social and flirtatious, which can have a positive influence on sexual desire and activity," says Daniele Doucet, a registered clinical counsellor, certified clinical sexologist, and the only sex therapist in the Sea to Sky corridor. "From a biochemical perspective, sunlight has an impact on the release of serotonin in the brain, which improves mood and can influence sexual behaviour. Sunlight also releases MSH — melanocyte stimulating hormone — which has been associated with increased sexual activity for females."
Solstice drinking and dining
Folks who follow pagan holidays point to fresh vegetables and fruit as central to solstice celebrations. In a nod to the sun, yellow, orange, and red-coloured foods figure prominently too; think lemons and oranges, summer squash, corn, tomatoes, and peppers. Anything grilled is suitable, since barbecues represent bonfires.
Traditional drinks, meanwhile, include ale, mead (a honey-based alcoholic beverage, since honey is in abundance at this time of year), fresh fruit juice, and herbal teas.
Swedes toast the longest day of the year with aquavit flavoured with Scandinavian spices such as caraway and anise. Pickled herring with dill and boiled freshly picked potatoes make up the traditional meal.
Martha Stewart suggests throwing a summer solstice party is easy, even without much notice. On her menu are: tequila sunrise cocktails to start; heirloom tomatoes on rustic bread; West Coast pizza with veggies, peaches, and clams; creamy coleslaw; waffle ice-cream sandwiches; and more.
Warming things up
As solstice brings us the longest day of the year, many people assume it should also proffer the hottest. That's a myth.
The hottest weather of the year follows summer solstice by a month or two because of what's called the "lag" of the seasons. It takes the planet some time to warm up after a long winter.
Despite the fact that solstice is an astronomical and not a meteorological event, there's good news for local weather-watchers in the months ahead.
"We're expecting conditions to be warmer than average this summer in British Columbia, especially the southern portion," says AccuWeather meteorologist Randy Adkins. "So, warm and relatively dry in the south."