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Volume xviii, Issue 4 ~ January 28 - February 3, 2010

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Quickening

With winter past its apex, our daylight hours accelerate

If you’re feeling hard held in the grip of winter, take heart. Just in the past month we’ve already begun our escape from these long, cold nights. Just since the new year, we’ve gained more than a half-hour of sunlight in the evenings, and that continues with an additional 90 seconds gained each day. Not so fast is the departing gloom of morning, but even so, the sun rises more than 10 minutes earlier than it did a month ago.

And each day will bring with it only more daylight, with the pace increasing as we approach vernal equinox. February 2, which we commonly celebrate as Groundhog’s Day, is winter’s zenith, the first of the year’s four cross-quarter days, which mark the midpoint between solstice and equinox, the quarter days.

Long before crowds waited for Punxsutawney Phil, the pre-Christian Celts and Druids of what is now France and Great Britain observed the day as Imbolc, the quickening. This was the time when life reawakens, seeds begin to sprout beneath the soil and sheep give birth to their first lambs.

As part of their celebration, the Celts adopted the habit of scaring a badger from its den and watching its reaction. If it’s warm enough to keep these critters from returning to hibernation, spring may well blossom early.

With Christianity’s spread, the Church assimilated these pagan celebrations into its own holidays. Forty days after Christ’s birth, Mary first presented the child to the elders at temple, as early Christians, including Jesus, were Jews. That day, February 2, is the end of the Christmas season on the Roman church calendar and is celebrated as Candlemas. Marking this holy occasion, churches still observe Candlemas, blessing all the coming year’s candles on that day.

Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2010 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.

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