When is the first day of summer 2019?

Although Memorial Day often feels like the kickoff to summer, on the calendar, the first day of the season doesn't actually occur until later in June. Astronomically, the summer solstice is the official first day of summer 2019 and will take place on Friday, June 21. 

What is the summer solstice?

In short, the summer solstice takes place when the sun travels the longest path to reach its most northern, highest point in the sky. This creates the longest day of the year (sunlight wise) and the shortest night.

More scientifically, the summer solstice occurs between June 20 and June 22 (depending on the year), when the North Pole is tilted toward the sun at about 23.4°. This is the most extreme incline the Northern Hemisphere will experience all year. This is also the sun's longest path, hence creating a longer amount of daylight. (The latin term "solstice" translates to "sun standing still.") At noon, the sun's rays will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer.

If you want to get precise, the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice will commence the first day of summer 2019 at exactly 11:54 AM EDT. 

However, there are technically two summer solstices in a year. The Southern Hemisphere will experience their summer solstice in December when the South Pole is inclined towards the sun. At this time, the Northern Hemisphere will experience its winter solstice.

How ancient people celebrated the summer solstice

In ancient times, the solstice was celebrated in many ways. In fact, knowing the start and end date of the seasons was vital to ancient people's survival and indicated when to plant and when to harvest crops. It is believed that many of their monuments—Stonehenge and Bighorn Medicine Wheel—were designed around the rising of the sun during the summer solstice. 

According to History.com, ancient Northern and Central European pagans celebrated with bonfires, which were believed to boost the sun's energy for the rest of the growing season and ensure a bountiful harvest. (Bonfires also helped keep evil spirits away.)

In ancient Egypt, the summer solstice marked the first day of the year and the rise of the Nile River, which was crucial for their food supply. In ancient Greece, it marked the start of the new year, began a 30-day countdown to the start of the Olympic games and was celebrated with a festival called Kronia, which invited slaves to participate as equals. And in ancient Rome, they marked the day with Vestalia, a festival honoring goddess of the hearth, Vesta. 

How the summer solstice is celebrated today

Today, plenty of cultures still celebrate the summer solstice with midsummer festivals that include bonfires, flower crowns and dancing.

In Wiltshire, England, the summer solstice marks the rare occasion that the Stonehenge is open to the public. Last year, roughly 9,500 people were in attendance for the event, according to Wiltshire police.

"It's a great opportunity for friends and families to come together and mark the longest day of the year, as people have done for thousands of years," Kate Davies, English Heritage's director of Stonehenge told BBC last year. 

"There was a lovely, friendly atmosphere throughout, the sun shone, and dawn was met with loud cheers."

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Thousands gather at Stonehenge site for summer solstice
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Thousands gather at Stonehenge site for summer solstice
The sun rises at dawn as revellers welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The sun rises at dawn as revellers welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
An image is seen on a smartphone screen as revellers welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Revellers watch the sunrise as they celebrate the pagan festival of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England on June 21, 2018. - The festival, which dates back thousands of years, celebrates the longest day of the year when the sun is at its maximum elevation. Modern druids and people gather at the landmark Stonehenge every year to see the sun rise on the first morning of summer. (Photo by Geoff CADDICK / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
WILTSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: The sun rises over the horizon at the ancient Stone circle of Stonehenge on June 21, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. Thousands of revellers celebrating summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge this morning. The sun rose was at 4.52am. PHOTOGRAPH BY Kiran Ridley / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read KIRAN RIDLEY / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WILTSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: The sun rises over the horizon at the ancient Stone circle of Stonehenge on June 21, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. Thousands of revellers celebrating summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge this morning. The sun rose was at 4.52am. PHOTOGRAPH BY Kiran Ridley / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read KIRAN RIDLEY / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WILTSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: The sun rises over the horizon at the ancient Stone circle of Stonehenge on June 21, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. Thousands of revellers celebrating summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge this morning. The sun rose was at 4.52am. PHOTOGRAPH BY Kiran Ridley / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read KIRAN RIDLEY / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A man plays a flute before dawn as revellers welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A woman takes photos before dawn as revellers welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
WILTSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: Thousands of revellers celebrating summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge this morning on June 21, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. The sun rose was at 4.52am. PHOTOGRAPH BY Kiran Ridley / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read KIRAN RIDLEY / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
Revellers practice yoga before sunrise as they welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrated the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
Revellers await before sunrise as they welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Revellers practice yoga before sunrise as they welcome in the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge stone circle in southwest Britain, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A woman relaxes as the sun rises at Stonehenge onto people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man blows bubbles as the sun rises at Stonehenge onto people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
A woman twirls a hula-hoop as the sun rises at Stonehenge where people celebrated the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
Two people hug as the sun rises at Stonehenge where a crowd celebrated the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
A woman wears a colourful head-dress at Stonehenge where people celebrated the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The sun breaks the horizon and shines through the stones at Stonehenge onto crowds of people celebrating the dawn of the longest day in the UK. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
Revellers watch the sunrise as they celebrate the pagan festival of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England on June 21, 2018. - The festival, which dates back thousands of years, celebrates the longest day of the year when the sun is at its maximum elevation. Modern druids and people gather at the landmark Stonehenge every year to see the sun rise on the first morning of summer. (Photo by Geoff CADDICK / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
WILTSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: Thousands of revellers celebrating summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge this morning on June 21, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. The sun rose was at 4.52am. PHOTOGRAPH BY Kiran Ridley / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read KIRAN RIDLEY / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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