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First day of summer 2013: where our solstice traditions come from (+video)

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In Asia, the ancient Chinese commemorated the summer solstice as a celebration of femininity and the earth, as the sun rose to give life to summer crops. Come winter, the Chinese would, fairly, celebrate the December solstice as honoring masculinity and the heavens. In India, the ancient Ajanta caves are thought to align with the sun on the summer and winter solstices, so that the stone Buddhas within are lit up during the ethereal moment.

Generally, the summer solstice becomes more important with increasing latitude – for civilizations close to the broiling equator, after all, summer weather was not particularly novel, nor was the demarcation of seasons so important to agriculture. In North America, Wyoming’s Bighorn medicine wheel – a Native American-made stone arrangement some several hundred years old – is believed to have been deliberately built to align with the solstice sunrise and sunset. And in northern Europe, Celtic, Slavic, and Germanic couples would leap over bonfires, in hopes of giving a magical jolt to the sun’s fertile powers – their crops that summer would grow as high as the lovers had jumped, it was thought.

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