The History of the Seasons:
Winter, Spring, Summer & Fall
Everyone knows that the cold, dark days of winter are followed by the blooming of spring, which transitions into the hot, dry days of summer, which finds relief in the cool, crisp days of fall. These seasons, as the song goes, turn, turn, turn, year in and year out. Their characteristics determine when we plant and harvest; when children start and finish their school year; and for many of us, when our moods shift and our weight loss efforts kick into overdrive!
But just what causes this predictable cycle? Despite the widely held belief that the Earth's seasons result from being varying distances from the Sun (in Summer, the Earth is closer to the Sun, in the Winter, we are further away), in actuality, the seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis. Since that axis is tilted, different parts of the globe receive Sun orientation at different times during the year.
Summer is universally the hottest time of the year, for example, but the timing of Summer is not universal. In the Northern Hemisphere, Summer falls in June, July and August, while the Southern Hemisphere doesn't experience summer until December, January and February. This axis and subsequent Sun orientation mean that the Sun's rays hit the Earth at the most direct angle, making the days are longer -- and hotter -- than any other time of year.
The official start of the seasons is astrologically marked by solstices and equinoxes. Solstice refers to the time when the Sun reaches the peak of its northern and southern declinations. In December 21st or 22nd, the shortest day of the year occurs with the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice. (In the Southern Hemisphere, this is known as the summer solstice and it is actually the longest day of the year.) The summer (or winter, depending on your hemisphere) solstice is on June 21, which is the longest (or shortest) day of the year.
Marking the start of Spring and Fall, equinoxes are the day when the Sun crosses the celestial equator, making day and night of precisely equal duration. The vernal equinox occurs in late March and is the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and fall in the Southern Hemisphere. The autumnal equinox falls in late September, but in the Southern Hemisphere the day actually marks the beginning of spring, not autumn.
With the changing daylight and increasing -- or decreasing -- temperatures, we experience marked changes in weather patterns and agricultural seasons as well. Spring is the time for planting; fall for harvesting. Historically and in some cultures still today, Winter is an austere time for living off the Autumn's bounty of the land, while Summer is a time for patient growth.
But beyond these but agricultural ups and downs, there are important cultural, religious and national associations with the seasons as well. In the United States, for example, Autumn is strongly tied to associations with Halloween and Thanksgiving, intermingled with seasonal harvest imagery and the colors of falling leaves. Winter means holiday parties, winter break from school and twinkling Christmas tree lights. The Spring is associated with gardening and planting, a short vacation from school, and religious holidays such as Passover and Easter. The Summers bring an end to the school year, long vacations, pool parties, 4th of July fireworks, and lots of barbeques. While some of these associations will be familiar in other parts of the world, each country and culture has its own unique rhythms and rituals to each season. What do each of the seasons mean to you?
Did You Know? Winter
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