A similar version of this article was first published in the Winter 2015 Landcare Perspective Newsletter.
By Su Wild-River Is anyone feeling SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as the winter blues is a seasonal pattern of recurrent depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, and remits at other times. It affects more people in areas where the winter days are shortest. For instance, in America, it affects 1.4% in Florida, but 9.9% in Alaska. So maybe about 1 in 20 of the good folk in our district are feeling SAD at the moment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Seasonal_affective_disorder).
The good news is that we’ll feel better soon. Winter solstice is just around the corner, so this year the days will start lengthening from 22 June onwards. The winter solstice is one of eight mathematically distinct moments of the year, in terms of the length of days. I find it both interesting and useful to take note of each of these moments. The Gaelic calendar is helpful because it marks each of the eight moments with a festival. In the southern hemisphere, we have to shift each festival by 6 months. You’ll see what I mean in the paragraphs that follow.
The solstices are the longest and shortest days and nights of the year. Winter solstice, or Yule is the shortest day and the longest night. Around here the Yule day is only 9 hours, 46 minutes and 30 seconds long. After Yule, the days start to lengthen, but only very slowly at first. The day after Yule is less than 1 second longer than Yule, and the next day is longer by 2 seconds.
8 August is Imbolc which translates as “in the belly”, or “ewe’s milk” since that’s the start of lambing. Imbolc marks the end of the SAD time of the year, because this is when the days start becoming noticeably longer, with 1 minute and 41 seconds difference between 8 and 9 August. Maybe it’s also seeing all of those cute little lambs around that makes us start to cheer up.
Days and nights are of equal length at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. These are also the times when day lengths change most dramatically and some people get SAD because of this rapid change of day length as well. Each day is about 2 minutes and 12 seconds longer than the one before around the spring equinox.
Beltane is the spring festival, traditionally celebrated with cleansing fire, and optimism. Days are still lengthening, but more slowly than before.
Midsummer, or the summer solstice is the longest day of the years and ours will be 14 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds. Midsummer was celebrated with fire in the northern hemisphere, but we’d be foolhardy to light up here because this is bushfire season in our part of the world. (We like to have a winter solstice bonfire instead).
Lammas on 4 February is the harvest festival, celebrated with banquets of fresh produce. This is the point of the year where days start getting noticeably shorter. Mabon, the Autumn equinox follows with equal days and nights, and speedily lengthening darkness. Samhain is the day of the dead, or Halloween in the northern hemisphere.
Samhain brings on the long, dark nights that make some of us SAD again.
Photo by Su Wild-River. Our 2015 pre-winter solstice bonfire.