Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day As A Special Day For New York City

I think of St. Patrick's Day as a special day for New York City. Not for the usual reasons you might think and not because of the history of the Irish with their involvement in the governance and politics of this city. It is not for those reasons, notwithstanding a fair quantity of Irish blood that flows in my veins. . . .

It's because I think of St. Patrick's Day as being New York's first day of spring. To say that spring has already started with St. Patrick’s Day is not a reference to global warming nor spring arriving earlier especially given the particularly warm winter we've had this year that seems to evidence a warming trend. I know that officially spring will arrive only with the equinox which comes this year at 1:14 AM (EDT) on March 20. That’s admittedly a few days off.

The reason I pick this earlier day of the year as the first day of spring in New York is because in New York City St. Patrick’s Day is the day that you can expect the lengthening days to become equal with the shortening nights. In other latitudes it happens on other days, but in New York City you can mark St. Patrick’s Day on your calendar for this event.

In the weather section of today’s paper, the New York Times has the sun rising at 7:04 AM and setting at 7:05 PM. These things do shift around slightly (it has to do with that leap year stuff and the times are averaged to the nearest minute) but other years you will find the Times reporting the St. Patrick’s Day sun rises at 7:06 AM and sets at 7:06 PM. Yesterday, the Times reported that the sun rose at 7:06 AM and set at 7:04 PM. Nominally, with whatever averaging is in play, that’s a three minute difference: This is the time of year when New York’s days lengthen at their most furious rate.

You might think that the equinox would be the day for this day-and-night-are-equal event: After all, isn’t that what the equinox is supposed be about, when the earth is half way through its rotation around the sun and we catch that fleeting moment it is neither summer with its longer days nor winter with its longer nights? Indeed, the equinox is the day when day and night are approximately equal everywhere around the world. But there is something about the way that atmosphere of the earth bends the sun’s rays in a day-lengthening way that means that in New York City the equalizing of day and night occurs on St. Patrick’s Day, a good few days ahead of the equinox. After that, for all the rest of the summer, our days will be longer than our nights.

So, on St. Patrick’s Day when others may be thinking of the green of Ireland I am thinking of the green of an arriving spring and how the date of St. Patrick’s Day is special to New York City in this respect.

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