The last day of autumn. The beginning of winter.
Almost nothing I say irritates my daughter so much as my insistence that November 1 is actually the first day of winter. But I’m not the first or the only one to believe so.
The first clue is the traditional name given to the date our calendars say is the first day of winter – December 21st – Midwinter.
Then there’s the Celtic definition of Samhain – our Halloween: Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
Lastly, buried within that definition, is a hint of the scientific proof: halfway between.
At the autumnal equinox, September 21, the sun has come to a point of equilibrium between light and dark – the height of autumn, I would call it. From here on out, night begins to overtake day, culminating at Midwinter, December 21st, when we are blessed with the longest night of the year.
Somewhere between these two – equilibrium and dark’s one-night rule - autumn reaches its full intensity and then begins to shed its glory and fades away. By Thanksgiving, the trees are bare, the earth is hard and the skies are gray.
That time between is Samhain, Halloween. When the veil between light and dark, life and death, is thin. Light and life have still enough power to hold back the darkness of death and we are free to flirt with it, to dip our toes into the inevitability of what is to come, to prepare.
So, light your lanterns to scare away darkness. Put on your disguises so that death will not recognize you. Fill your bags with sweet, bright treats, to see you through the dying days.
Winter is here.