Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Dismallest Day of the Year

Ye gods above, I'm tired of hearing people say that it's now "officially" winter, the solstice having passed. Sorry, I know I'm a pedant to get this annoyed at each and every solstice and equinox, but the seasons are not defined astronomically! In fact, they're not officially defined at all, at least, not in the United States. Listen to wise Uncle Cecil of the Straight Dope:
There is a widespread misconception in this country — which extends, I might note, to the makers of most calendars, dictionaries, and encyclopedias — that summer "officially" starts on the day of the summer solstice, June 21 or 22, which is the longest day of the year. Americans also believe (1) that there is some valid scientific reason for doing it that way, and (2) that everybody in the Northern Hemisphere does it that way, and always has. None of these things is true. So far as I have been able to discover, no scientific or governmental body has ever formally declared that summer starts on the solstice.
Hear that, people, Washington has left you to your own devices to decide what season it is on any given day! Madness! Chaos!

Things were much simpler in the mid-20th century, when it was generally accepted that winter comprised December, January, and February; spring March, April, and May; summer June, July, and August, and fall was September, October, and November. It's nice and simple, and lines up pretty well with the weather. As far as I'm concerned, spring starts with the first flowers, summer on the first day I break a sweat (without exerting myself), fall when it smells like fall, and winter with the first snow that sticks. But that's just me. Incidentally, nobody seems to know where the rather strange idea originated that the equinoxes and solstices mark the beginnings of the seasons. It's one of those things that everyone just started telling each other with the assumption that it was backed by some sort of authority, but now it's gotten so ingrained in the American consciousness that I'm surely guaranteed an absolute minimum of four days of frustration per year for the rest of my life. You could argue, I suppose, that I should just lighten up. You clearly don't know me very well.


Elephantschild said...

:::stands up, applauds::

You should move here. Fall doesn't start until the middle of November, and Summer starts around Mother's Day, since that's when people plant out their tomatoes.

Shane said...

But what about the branching at Groundhog Day determining when winter ends each year?

Here's hoping you guys enjoy your winter. I'm not enjoying my (cold Iraqi rainy season) here.

Elephantschild said...

Shane, I live in Flyover Country. No one around here actually waits to see if the groundhog sees his shadow... they're too busy taking aim with the gun. Pesky rodents!