As of 11:54 a.m. today, summer was officially underway. That’s the moment of the summer solstice.

Longest day, in this usage, means the longest period of sunlight. Sunset today is at 8:41 p.m.

“At the June solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives sunlight at the most direct angle for the year,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Days grow shorter for the next six months until the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

As a child, I absolutely loved this time of the year. My siblings and I, along with our friends, pretty much had the run of the neighborhood, swimming during the day and playing games like “Kick the Can” late into the evening hours.

School was over for the year and the time was at hand to just be kids, with no thought to homework or obeying school rules. We had to behave at home, but only to the degree that it kept us out of trouble with our parents.

We are heading toward the hottest part of the calendar, known by many as the “dog days of summer.” This is the time of year when yard work is necessary, but the effort is always sweaty and is best done in a slow and steady manner.

From what I’ve read, the term, “dog days,” comes from the rising of the bright “dog star,” Sirius, which is part of the Canis Major or “greater dog” constellation. Arising from North African and Near Eastern traditions, the appearance of the star happens to coincide with the hottest days of the year.

The ancient Greeks actually believed that the Dog Star’s appearance itself brought on the warm weather. The Greek poet Homer references the star in the Iliad.

According to the venerable almanac, the dog days of summer begin July 3 and end on Aug. 11. Incidentally, these represent the days with the least rainfall in the U.S. and other parts of the northern hemisphere. In Wilkes and the surrounding area, that hasn’t been the case so far. We’ve certainly had plenty of rain.

In terms of heat, most folks down south would also dispute that the dog days end before the second week of August.

My daughter, Sydney, who lives in New Orleans, would laugh at that suggestion, given the fact that it is plenty warm and humid there well into the fall. My youngest daughter, Meredith, who lives in the desert climate of Phoenix, Ariz., also has a different view of what it means to endure hot weather. Over the next few days, daytime highs in Phoenix will be over 100 degrees, with still hotter weather to come.

Celebrations are taking place all over the world today in conjunction with the summer solstice, such as International Yoga Day. Last year, some 11,000 practitioners rolled out their mats in New York City’s Times Square for meditative yoga sessions, striving for inner peace. That’s according to Travel and Leisure magazine.

As night falls in Austria the Wachau Midsummer Night event will feature fireworks erupting from the banks of the Danube River and bonfires and torches lighting up mountainsides. Dawn at the famous Neolithic Stonehenge site near Wiltshire, England, finds a huge crowd gathered to witness the sun rising above the Heel Stone.

In Romania, ritual dances are done by young ladies dressed in white, supposedly assuring a plentiful harvest. A similar ancient festival is popular in neighboring Bulgaria, with folks bathing in streams and wearing floral crowns.

Much of the summer solstice celebrations in Europe have their roots in pagan rituals practiced thousands of years ago. These days, it’s just a reason to get outdoors and have fun.

In any case, the dog days of summer will be with us for the next couple of months. Then comes football season.

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