High noon

I like to equate the eight solar festivals to a day. That puts the winter solstice at midnight, Imbolc in the wee hours of the morning, Samhain sometime between sunset and midnight, and so on. The summer solstice is equivalent to high noon. The time of the actual solstice varies from year to year, and can be at night which just does not work for me metaphorically. So I prefer to celebrate it at noon on whatever day it falls.

Years ago, it occurred to me that noon isn’t 12:00 PM in summer because of Daylight Saving Time. “Noon” in the sense of the time that the Sun is at its high point, is actually 1:00 PM (“spring ahead”). Well, that’s an easy enough change if I remember it, which I don’t always, because “noon” and “12:00 PM” are synonymous in my mind.

Sun at peak of tower.

But you can get even geekier about this if you want to. Up until the nineteenth century, each community kept “local time.” But with the development of railways, people could travel so quickly that they had to change their watches in town after town as they moved east or west, and it made scheduling difficult. Out of this came time zones and the adoption of a generic time that’s the same for all communities within a zone. This makes life easier in many ways, but I wanted to know when local noon would have been for where I live. Living in an apartment, setting up a sundial wasn’t all that practical. Luckily, you can figure this out if you know where you are, where your time zone is based, and how long it takes the Sun to move a certain distance. So, to give you something without much use except for the occasional ritual or meditation, I present a method of finding your local noon.

(No, your ancestors didn’t do this. They didn’t have to—local time was normal for them.)

Just to make it clear, this will not tell you the exact moment of the summer solstice. You can skip all this math and look the time and date up when you need to.

Local Noon

  1. It’s summer: remember to start your calculations at 1:00 PM instead of noon. You could stop at this point and be pretty accurate.
  2. Find the longitude of your location. You could Google it (“Boston, MA longitude”), or heck, there are apps that will tell you where you are. You want the number with the W (west), not the N (north).
    • Boston, MA: 71.0589º W
    • St. Paul, MN: 93.0936º W
  3. Longitude is often shown in degrees and minutes, but in looking up the longitude for my city, I realized that it’s also shown as degrees and a decimal, like I listed above. To convert that decimal to minutes, multiply the decimal by 60.
    • Boston, MA: 0.0589 x 60 = 3.534′ which rounds up to 4′. Boston’s longitude is 71º 04′ W.
    • St. Paul, MN: 0.0936 x 60 = 5.616′ which rounds up to 6′. St. Paul’s longitude is 93º 06′ W.
  4. Look up the meridian of your time zone:
Time Zone Meridian
Atlantic 60º
Eastern 75º
Central 90º
Mountain 105º
Pacific 120º
Alaska 135º
Hawaii-Aleutian 150º
  1. Chances are, there’s a difference of at least a few degrees between your location and your time zone’s meridian. The time it takes the Sun to travel between the two is the difference between the generic noon for your time zone and your local noon. So now, calculate the difference between the two, subtracting the smaller number from the larger.
    • Boston, MA: 75º – 71º 04′ = 3º 56′.
    • St. Paul, MN: 93º 06′ – 90º = 3º 06′.
  2. Now you convert units of longitude into units of time (ooh, aah!). At the rate the Earth rotates, the Sun moves 15º of longitude in an hour. But you probably aren’t that far away from your time zone’s meridian, so we need smaller units.
Longitude Units Time Units
15º 1 hour
4 minutes
15′ 1 minute
1′ 4 seconds
  • Boston, MA: 3º x 4 minutes = 12 minutes. 56′ is three chunks of 15′ (that is, 45′) which are another 3 minutes of time, plus the leftover 11′ which adds 44 seconds of time. 12 minutes + 3 minutes + 44 seconds = 15 minutes, 44 seconds, or 16 minutes of time for people without a stopwatch.
  • St. Paul, MN: 3º x 4 minutes = 12 minutes. 6′ x 4 seconds = 24 seconds. 12 minutes + 24 seconds = 12 minutes, 24 seconds, which is just 12 minutes of time, practically speaking.
  1. And now to find the time of your local noon! Add or subtract that time you just came up with to 1:00 pm (remember Daylight Saving Time). If you’re east of your time zone’s meridian, subtract your time difference. If you’re west of your time zone’s meridian, add your time difference.
    • Boston, MA: Boston is east of the Eastern Time Zone meridian, so high noon will come just a bit before 1:00 PM. 1:00 – 16 minutes = 12:44 PM EDT.
    • St. Paul, MN: St. Paul is west of the Central Time Zone meridian, so high noon will come just a bit after 1:00 PM. 1:00 + 12 minutes = 1:12 PM CDT.

Joyous Solstice to you!


photo credit: Gnomon via photopin (license)

Other people’s solstices

Rather than perform a full-blown summer solstice ritual myself (I did light a candle and think solsticey thoughts), I decided to attend a ritual at a nearby Unitarian Universalist church. The church is in the throes of remodeling, resulting in the ritual being held in the sanctuary. It was an awkward fit. Unitarian Universalism is no longer a Christian denomination, but the design of this sanctuary followed a standard Christian church layout, with rows of pews facing a chancel. The organizers had done their level best to fit a circle of folding chairs into the chancel. Since the chancel is elevated three stair-levels above the main floor, half the circle was up in the chancel and the other half was squeezed into the aisle between the first row of pews and the lowest stair. But as the lower chairs filled, people began sitting in the front pews rather than go for the upper chairs. We may all have egalitarian ideals, but there’s a lot of conditioning that says that a chancel is only for the people actively participating in a service!

The ritual itself was like a Pagan ritual with Christian elements. I don’t mean theological elements, but parts of what I think of as the Basic Protestant Service (BPS). Most noticeably, there were programs. And honestly, programs do solve some of the recurring problems I’ve seen at Pagan rituals. Instead of trying to teach chants and songs to participants ahead of time, the organizers simply printed the words and music in the program. This meant that they could use chants and songs that were more complicated than what people are usually asked to learn before Pagan rituals. Heck, with programs in hand, we even managed a couple of rounds. Programs, though, let the organizers include another element of the BPS: responsive readings. I’ve never been fond of those—a crowd never responds in unison or with much true feeling in their voices—and I didn’t appreciate having them in a ritual, although the poems they were reading were cool.

The ritual had two focus activities. One was a Maypole for the children. Shades of the BPS: it did feel like the children’s time in a Sunday service. Some of the youngest children weren’t sure that this was a good idea at first, so several parents came along for reassurance, but by the end, everyone was laughing. In addition to emotional support, the parents were useful for untangling children from ribbons. Kudos to whoever figured out how to erect a Maypole indoors that could stand strong against all that yanking and pulling! (Without drilling a hole in the floor, that is.) After that, people were invited to place yellow stones for joys and/or blue stones for sorrows in a scale on the altar. This church does this at other services throughout the year, so it both linked this ritual to these other services and seemed particularly appropriate for a solstice or equinox service, what with the symbolism of a scale moving in and out of balance.

By the way, this ritual was 100% deity-free. They called the quarters and dismissed them again at the end, with no mention of any goddess or god in between. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this at their rituals, and I don’t know why it gets to me. It’s not like there’s a lot of theos in my personal theology; I tend to see the Goddess and God as archetypes, even when I’m inviting them in a ritual. The best analogy I can come up with is that a Pagan ritual without gods is sort of like a performance of a sonata for violin and orchestra minus the violin. It would still be nice to listen to, but it’s not the same. Alas, no cakes and ale either. Since there was no energy work, there wasn’t a need for grounding, but its social function would have been nice. Who were these other people who came? I’d like to get to know more Pagans in the area, and a bit of post-ritual eating and drinking would be a good way to work on that. Besides, I like food. Phooey.