Today, January 5, came the latest sunrise, 7:22 AM – as seen from 40 degrees north, the latitude of Philadelphia or Salt Lake city.
From my present latitude of about 51, this happened back on December 31 and the time was more like 8. But I can tell you that it still feels drearily dark to get up when I feel compelled to, at or before 6, and go out under the cold and often damp sky. It feels more like midwinter than it did back on December 22, the solstice and shortest day, or Dec. 12, the earliest sunset for my latitude, or Dec. 8, earliest sunset for latitude 40.
It’s all very well to argue, as Howard Wilk does and I, inspired by him, do in the “Latest and Earliest Sunrise and Sunset” bit on page 31 of Astronomical Calendar 2016, that December 8 is the beginning of the end of winter because from then on the evenings start getting longer and so the days, in that sense, seem to be getting longer and spring is a first twinkle at the end of a long tunnel and we can almost hear the first crocus bulb beginning to swell somewhere underground or the first bud trying to break through the gray bark of a grapevine or the first bloodroot readying itself to open on an Appalachian mountainside
and therefore we should celebrate the day as Seculus. The idea is benevolent; one flaw in it is that business of the date being different for different latitudes. The other is my statement that “Most people in urban cultures are oblivious of sunrise and aware of sunset.” Yes, I may be more often conscious at sunset (I can’t recall an instance of having been passed out) than at sunrise (I sometimes sleep in) but there’s a difference between conscious and aware. In our lives as nomads or gardeners we saw the sunsets but in our lives in rooms and streets we seldom do.