June 23, 2012 Celebrating the Solstice
The summer solstice occurred last week on June 20. The day that marks the astronomical beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere is often celebrated in high northern latitudes. In fact, it is regarded as the greatest festival of the year in Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia. On the summer solstice, the earth's axis reaches its greatest tilt toward the sun, this is why it is the day with the most seconds of daylight in the northern hemisphere.
Check out this link for an animation of the earth as seen from the sun throughout the year: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Earth_seen_from_the_s...
Many Alaskans in camp didn't share our enthusiasm about the solstice because today marks the progression back towards extended periods of darkness. Days continue to get shorter from the summer solstice until Decemeber. The sun never sets here at Toolik from May 26 to July 17, but it never rises from November 27 to January 14. Even in lower latitudes of Alaska the daylight and darkness are extreme. In Fairbanks, they receive more than 20 hours of daylight in June, compared to just around 4 hours in January.
Celebrations of the solstice have been important in many cultures throughout time. Bonfires are common in places like Sweeden, Finland, and Norway. Some cultures still recognize the event with week-long celebrations. Even in the U.S. I read about celebrations ranging from a parade in Seattle to yoga in Times Sqaure.
Some of us did celebrate on the solstice with a small fire, but the official celebration was moved to Saturday as most people work long hours throughout the week. People posted theme ideas on the board in the dining hall throughout the week. A theme of "movie titles" was decided upon, and teams got to work on making "movie title" costumes to wear to the bonfire. Making costumes at Toolik poses a new set of challenges because you can't run to the store to buy supplies. You have to get creative with what you can find around camp. Kiki came up with the idea of having Team Spider dress as Alfred Hitchcock film titles. Kiki, Amanda, and I dressed as "Rear Window," "Dial M for Murder," and "The Birds" respectively.
I'm quickly learning that at Toolik people take both work and play seriously!