Halloween marks the start of the dark season - astronomically

Premature Christmas decorations aren’t the only sign of the upcoming shortest day of the year! Hallowe’en is the harbinger of our year’s darkest days.

You’ve probably noticed that its getting dark earlier each evening. Tonight, the sun sets just after 6:00 (remember, we’re still on daylight time, so that’s really just after 5 pm). And it’s probably still dim outside when you get out of bed in the morning. That’s because each day the Sun spends more than half it its time below the horizon than above. This is one sign that we’re rapidly approaching the shortest day of the year.

 Comet ISON pumpkin - courtesy Will Gater

Comet ISON pumpkin - courtesy Will Gater

Hallowe’en traditionally marked the start of that dark season. It lies right between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. There are 3 similar days, 2 of which still have associated celebrations. In February, we celebrate Groundhog Day, anticipating spring. May Day brings the hint of summer. The 3rd day would be August 1, which was celebrated as a harvest festival in the British Isles (Lammas or Lugnasa). Hallowe’en is really the only one of these old days that we still celebrate in North America.

We celebrate Hallowe’en in hopes of chasing away the dark. Lighting jack-o-laterns and wearing scary costumes. But the dark still comes and as it does, watch for more light-based celebrations -- Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas to name a few. Have a safe and happy night!