The Plague-Ground – What were you doing at 5:43 p.m. on Saturday?

At that moment, the sun was the highest it will be in the Northern Hemisphere this year and it was also The Longest Day.

In fact, it was light long past 9:00 p.m. and the sun set not so much in the west, but in the north.

Saturday was the summer solstice, the official start of summer, and in every other year for centuries the day has been marked by festivals and rituals.

Not here. Not this year.

This year, 30,000 Britons didn’t gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. Music fans didn’t flock to the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, and the World Music Festival didn’t spark free arena and street concerts all over the world.

Oh sure, they held virtual versions of themselves. But a picture of the sunset is not the sunset. A video riff is not live and unplugged.

Here in southern Canada, there was…almost nothing. One of the few official solstice celebrations is Ottawa’s Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, which of course was cancelled, as were its Indigenous Awards. If you google “Canada Summer Solstice Festivals 2020”, you’ll find hardly anything. But if you did that last year or the year before, you wouldn’t turn up much either.

This is odd, don’t you think?

Here we are in the world’s second largest country where the sun rose on Saturday at Cape Spear, Newfoundland, and set off Tofino on Vancouver Island 22 hours later.

Our summers are achingly short and because of that, they’re especially precious. Do all 37 million of us not want to bust out now that summer’s here?

We’re also an Arctic nation where two-thirds of our land mass is called The Land of the Midnight Sun. In other Arctic nations like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the summer solstice is the big breakout holiday of the year.

Why not here?

Maybe because 90% of our people huddle in cities as far south as possible. Toronto is The Land of the 9 p.m. Sun.

Or maybe because the sun is just harder to see in the big city, or was until the pandemic scrubbed their vistas clean of pollutants.

But I think it’s because we’ve never felt easy with marking annual natural events with festivals. For Canadians, nature isn’t something to be part of. It’s something, as Margaret Atwood noted, to be survived.

But even here the pandemic has given us a once-in-forever chance to change our ways.

As we still sit at home, almost free to wander, we’ve become more resolute in saving the earth, being part of nature, understanding that while we may be bond traders or frontliners, all 8.6 billion of us are connected to each other and to every blade of grass.

So why not acknowledge and celebrate nature in its brightest, shiniest form?

Next year, summer solstice takes place at 11:31 p.m. on Sunday, June 20th.

It’s time to put that in our calendars and think how to mark that day with the joy and respect it deserves.

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6 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – What were you doing at 5:43 p.m. on Saturday?”

  1. When I was much younger I went spelunking in a cave in Ireland that had a stone to mark the summer solstice. Celebrate we must.

    Mary Bird

  2. Finns always have a big celebration at “Juhannus” (summer solstice). Finnish Canadians carry on the tradition, travelling north to town called Upsala to celebrate.
    It has always surprised me that Canadians generally ignore this truly magical time.

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