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Summer Solstice Traditions

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As the days get longer and longer, I thought it would be interesting in today’s newsletter to talk about the Summer Solstice, and different cultural traditions around this moment in the year that marks the beginning of summer.

This year the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, in the Northern Hemisphere began yesterday night, June 20th at 10:04 pm.  As the Earth is tilted toward the sun in the summer (and away from the sun in the winter), the solstice marks the turning point when the days begin to grow shorter. At the solstice itself, the sun appears to stand still in the sky for a few days before and after, and justly named, the word solstice comes from the Latin for sun and to stand still. Interestingly, on June 21st, while the hours of daylight are changing, the oceans need time to catch up. Oceans need a long time to heat up and cool down, so that is why July and August traditionally are the warmest months of the year.

 Celebrating the summer solstice has been a major part of many cultures in in our Northern Hemisphere (IE above the Equator), and the summer solstice traditionally was a time to celebrate renewal, life, fertility, and the potential for a good harvest. It was often celebrated with outdoor feasts, singing and dancing and bonfires.

The summer solstice was particularly important for the ancient Egyptians because it coincided with the start of the Nile’s flooding season. It was thought that the goddess Isis shed tears of mourning for her deceased husband causing the river to rise and nourish the Nile Valley. Festivals were created to honor fertility and abundance.

The ancient Greeks’ first day of the year was at the summer solstice. and also marked the countdown to the Olympic games.

The ancient Chinese participated in a ceremony on the summer solstice to honor the earth, femininity, and the energy force known as yin. According to Chinese traditions, the shortest shadow is found on the day of the summer solstice.

Many German, Slavic and Celtic pagans welcomed summer with bonfires, and many couples would jump through the flames to predict how high their crops would grow that year. In addition to bonfires, wheels made of flaming cart wheels were rolled down the hillsides to prolong the light on this longest of days. Stonehenge was built around 3100 BCE. Some people believe that it was built to help establish when the summer solstice occurred. As the sun rises at a particular point on the horizon, it can be viewed from the center of the stone circle at this spot. At that point, the builders may have started counting the days of the year.

Many Native Americans took part in centuries old midsummer rituals, often with dances that honored the sun. the Sioux were known to hold a ritual that included cutting and raising a tree that would be a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos.  The bodies of the dancers were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).

The Maya and Aztecs celebrated the midsummer by precisely aligning temples, public buildings and other structures with the shadows that were cast by major astrological phenomena.

The  ancient Celtic high priests known as Druids likely led ritual celebrations during midsummer, but contrary to popular belief, it was highly unlikely these took place at Stonehenge. To this day, modern Druids hold ceremonies at dawn and at at noon on the summer solstice.

In modern times, in many northern European countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the Midsummer Festival is one of the most festive summer celebrations. The time of the “midnight sun”,  honors the fertility and the Earth. Many people dance around maypoles and homes are decorated with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches. In the Basque Region of Northern Spain, the Sun is still revered in folk custom as Grandmother sun. On Midsummer Eve sun vigils are held to see the sun goddess touch the  mountain tops and dance at Dawn. The watchers would then bathe in the streams in the magical Midsummer waters that are still believed to have healing and empowering qualities.  In addition, Juno, the Roman Mother Goddess, was the patron of marriage and of of childbirth and she protected women from birth to the grave. June, her month, is considered the most fortunate for marriages as a result of this legend.

Something to think about as we celebrate today this longest day of the year. However you celebrate and honor the beginning of the summer, may it be filled with an abundance of light and joyous moments, celebrating the sun and all that it offers to us…

So, what has been going on in our classrooms this week?
In our Infant Room the babies have been interested in many books and they are at a place developmentally to listen to and absorb the world of books and pictures. It is always exciting to watch babies as their brain synapses are increasing, where they can now focus in on and take in the external world of things like books and music and things that move and create sounds and create patterns and the list goes on…
In our Toddler Room the children had a caterpillar parade! They then had a butterfly parade to make things even more interesting. The big accomplishment of the week was to walk in a line using the rope. That is not easy to do, and the children were amazingly adept at this task. Dancing was a highlight of the week, and salsa dancing topped off a week of dancing to all kinds of music. The children practiced taking turns with a  wonderful ball rolling activity, where they rolled a ball back and forth to each other. Paper plates became a fine medium for some art work and lots of free style painting rounded off the week.
In our Green Room stories and drama continue to excite and stimulate the children. Goodnight Gorilla continues to be a favorite as well as the Rainbow Fish. On Friday, this story theme was brought to a fabulous fruition in our walk to the new Bainbridge Island Art Museum’s auditorium, where the children were entertained by a wonderful performance of the “Rainbow Fish”. Afterwards, the children were mesmerized by actually being able to meet  the actors and see their costumes. Also this week in the Green Room the children painted with all kinds of tools–feathers were a great medium, and watercolors were wonderful paints to create beauteous art.

In our Blue Room the letter G continued to be a theme, and the children made purple grapes to hang on the wall.
They also created lovely flowers that will hold their baby pictures they will be displaying at graduation next week. Eating healthily and exercising have been the themes of the month. They made granola bars and they made up their own exercise routines. They have been reading about stories about the heart, teeth, and why it is important to sleep. They went to the park and played an alphabet racing game. They also did an interesting math game based on estimation, guessing how many steps one would need to take to go to different  places in the room, and different places down the hall. With a graphing format, the children got to guess, think about it, chart it, and then compare their guesses to the actual amount, as their hypotheses were tested.
So that, dear families is our week. Have wonderful weekends, and a very happy beginning of summer to all!!!

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