It’s dark. Dark when I leave the house in the morning, dark when I return in the evening. A friend describes this as “oh dark 30”. In other words, when using light as a criterion there is no reason to put too fine a point on what time it is. It is oh dark 30.
A few days ago Candlegrove pointed out that in her region she would be observing her earliest sunset of the year. An electronic trip the U.S. Naval Observatory
provided me with similar information. The earliest sunset in my corner of the world occurred on December 2 at 4:39. Actually this time of sunset has remained static since that day and will not change until December 15. Sunrise is later each morning and the days are growing steadily shorter.
Christopher Dewdney, in his recent book Acquainted with the Night: Excursions Through the World After Dark
, describes the three twilights:
…there are three stages of twilight: civil twilight, which arrives shortly after sunset and marks the time when car headlights should be switched on; nautical twilight which arrives half an hour after civil twilight when it is dark enough that the brightest stars are visible for navigation purposes; and astronomical twilight, which starts more than an hour after sunset when even the faintest stars are visible.
Evening twilights are especially observable in the summer when gardeners tend to be outside at dusk. Watching the slow progression of darkness descending is calming, centering and restful. In the winter I find the progression of sister dawn to be more apparent. As I journey to work I can observe the reverse twilight phases as the rising sun dispels the darkness. My alertness increases as dark gray shapes give way to discernible objects.
Hunger for the light in this season of prolonged darkness is reflected in all cultures. It is primeval, a basic need for any non-nocturnal animal. Candlegrove provides a comprehensive look
at the role light plays in shaping our annual holidays and observances.
Each year my community holds an early evening Festival of Lights celebration and parade. Robed figures with candle lanterns walk beside marching bands, instruments festooned with twinkling lights. Carolers and young angels with shimmering wings abound and a llama with a colorful light necklace paces regally through the crowd. The city hangs thousands of tiny lights, which are lit as a culmination of the festival. These welcome me home from work each evening. I will do my part today and put up strings of lights, then walk down the hill and look up to my door. The lights never fail to make me smile, small beacons in the inky darkness.
We come together during this time of the year to “drive cold winter away”. We sing and gather to celebrate whatever gives meaning to the season. Reasons to mark this time of year may vary among religions and cultures but the common thread of light unites us. Light in the winter is faith. Our candles and decorative lights are an affirmation.