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Schermata 2015-09-23 alle 01.19.50


Equinoxes are opposite on either side of the equator, so the autumnal (fall) equinox in the Northern Hemisphere is the spring (vernal) equinox in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa.

In the northern hemisphere, the fall equinox marks the first day of fall (autumn) in what is called astronomical seasons. There’s also another, more common definition of when the seasons start, namely meteorological definitions, which are based on average temperatures rather that astronomical events.

autumnal_equinoxAn equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes the center of the Sun. Equinoxes occur twice a year, around March 21st and September 23rd.  The equinoxes are the only times when the subsolar point (the place on Earth’s surface where the center of the Sun is exactly overhead) is on the Equator, and, consequently, the only times when the Sun is at a zenith over the Equator. The subsolar point crosses the equator, moving northward at the March equinox and southward at the September equinox. The equinoxes are the only times when the solar terminator is perpendicular to the Equator. As a result, the northern and southern Hemispheres are equally illuminated.

At an equinox, the Sun is at one of the two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: classically, the vernal point and the autumnal point. However, the axes of an equatorial or ecliptic coordinate system may be defined so as to be aligned with the ecliptic and vernal equinox at a fixed point in time (or aligned with an average); therefore due to the Earth’s axial and changes in orbital parameters, the Sun position during equinoxes in an equatorial or ecliptic coordinate system may slightly differ from the aforementioned idealized values.

The oldest meaning of the word “equinox” is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration. The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). The equinox is not exactly the same as the day when period of daytime and night are of equal length for two reasons. Firstly, sunrise, which begins daytime, occurs when the top of the Sun’s disk rises above the eastern horizon. At that instant, the disk’s center is still below the horizon. Secondly, Earth’s atmosphere refracts sunlight. As a result, an observer sees daylight before the first glimpse of the Sun’s disk above the horizon. To avoid this ambiguity, the word equilux is sometimes used to mean a day on which the periods of daylight and night are equal. Times of sunset and sunrise vary with an observer’s location (longitude and latitude), so the dates when day and night are closest together in length depend on location.

March Equinox and September Equinox: names referring to the times of the year when such equinoxes occur. These usages are gaining popularity since they are without the ambiguity as to which hemisphere is the context, but are still only appropriate to cultures using the twelve months of the Gregorian calendar year or their linguistic counterparts.

Spring equinox and fall equinox or autumn equinox: these are more colloquial names based on the seasons, and are also therefore ambiguous across hemispheres. Northward Equinox and Southward equinox: names referring to the apparent motion of the Sun at the times of the equinox. The least culturally biased terms. Vernal point and autumnal point are the points on the celestial sphere where the Sun is located on the vernal equinox and autumnal equinox respectively. Usually this terminology is fixed for the Northern hemisphere.

First point of Aires and first point of Libra are names formerly used by astronomers and now used by navigators and astrologers. Navigational ephemeris tables record the geographic position of the First Point of Aries as the reference for position of navigational stars. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, , the astrological signs of the tropical zodiac where these equinoxes are located no longer correspond with the actual constellations once ascribed to them. The equinoxes are currently in the constellations of Pisces and Virgo

On the day of the equinox, the center of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day are about the same length. The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night). In reality, the day is longer than the night at an equinox. Day is usually defined as the period when sunlight reaches the ground in the absence of local obstacles. From the Earth, the Sun appears as a disc rather than a point of light, so when the center of the Sun is below the horizon, its upper edge is visible. Furthermore, the atmosphere refracts light, so even when the upper limb of the Sun is 0.4 degrees below the horizon, its rays curve over the horizon to the ground. In sunrise/sunset tables, the assumed semi-diameter (apparent radius) of the Sun is 16 minutes of arc and the atmospheric refraction is assumed to be 34 minutes of arc. Their combination means that when the upper limb of Sun is on the visible horizon, its center is 50 minutes of arc below the geometric horizon, which is the intersection with the celestial sphere of a horizontal plane through the eye of the observer. These effects make the day about 14 minutes longer than the night at the Equator and longer still towards the poles. The real equality of day and night only happens in places far enough from the Equator to have a seasonal difference in day length of at least 7 minutes, actually occurring a few days towards the winter side of each equinox.

Because the Sun is a spherical (rather than a single-point) source of light, the actual crossing of the Sun over the Equator takes approximately 33 hours.

At the equinoxes, the rate of change for the length of daylight and night-time is the greatest. At the poles, the equinox marks the start of the transition from 24 hours of nighttime to 24 hours of daylight (or vice versa). Far north of the Arctic Circle, at Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway, there is an additional 15 minutes more daylight every day about the time of the Spring equinox, whereas in Singapore (which is just one degree of latitude north of the Equator), the amount of daylight in each daytime varies by just a few seconds.

In the half-year centered on the June solstice, the Sun rises north of east and sets north of west, which means longer days with shorter nights for the northern hemisphere and shorter days with longer nights for the southern hemisphere. In the half-year centered on the December solstice, the Sun rises south of east and sets south of west and the durations of day and night are reversed.

Also on the day of an equinox, the Sun rises everywhere on Earth (except at the poles) at about 06:00 and sets at about 18:00 (local time). These times are not exact for several reasons: (1) The Sun is much larger in diameter than the Earth, so that more than half of the Earth could be in sunlight at any one time (due to unparalleled rays creating tangent points beyond an equal-day-night line); (2) Most places on Earth use a time zone which differs from the local solar time by minutes or even hours. For example, if the Sun rises at 07:00 on the equinox, it will set 12 hours later at 19:00; (3) Even people whose time zone is equal to local solar time will not see sunrise and sunset at 06:00 and 18:00. This is due to the variable speed and the inclination of the Earth’s orbit, and is described as the equation of time. It has different values for the March and September equinoxes (+8 and −8 minutes respectively); (4) Sunrise and sunset are commonly defined for the upper limb of the solar disk, rather than its center. The upper limb is already up for at least a minute before the center appears, and the upper limb likewise sets later than the center of the solar disk. Also, when the Sun is near the horizon, atmospheric refraction shifts its apparent position above its true position by a little more than its own diameter. This makes sunrise more than two minutes earlier and sunset an equal amount later. These two effects combine to make the equinox day 12 h 7 min long and the night only 11 h 53 min. Note, however, that these numbers are only true for the tropics. For moderate latitudes, the discrepancy increases (e.g., 12 minutes in London); and closer to the poles it becomes very much larger (in terms of time). Up to about 100 km from either pole, the Sun is up for a full 24 hours on an equinox day; (5) Night includes twilight. If dawn and dusk are instead considered daytime, the day would be almost 13 hours near the equator, and longer at higher latitudes; and (6) Height of the horizon changes the day’s length. For an observer atop a mountain the day is longer, while standing in a valley will shorten the day.

The vernal equinox occurs in March, about when the Sun crosses the celestial equator south to north. The term “vernal point” is used for the time of this occurrence and for the direction in space where the Sun is seen at that time, which is the origin of some celestial coordinate system: (a) in the ecliptic coordinate system, the vernal point is the origin of the ecliptic longitude; and (b) in the equatorial coordinate system, the vernal point is the origin of the right ascension..

Because of the precession of the Earth’s axis, the position of the vernal point on the celestial sphere changes over time, and the equatorial and the ecliptic coordinate systems change accordingly. Thus when specifying celestial coordinates for an object, one has to specify at what time the vernal point and the celestial equator are taken. That reference time is called the equinox of date.

One effect of equinoctial periods is the temporary disruption of communications satellites. For all geostationary satellites, there are a few days around the equinox when the sun goes directly behind the satellite relative to Earth (i.e. within the beam-width of the ground-station antenna) for a short period each day. The Sun’s immense power and broad radiation spectrum overload the Earth station’s reception circuits with noise and, depending on antenna size and other factors, temporarily disrupt or degrade the circuit. The duration of those effects varies but can range from a few minutes to an hour.

Kathy Kiefer



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We constantly hear the term Polar Vortex but many of us may be unsure of what it all about. What causes them?   Why do we have them?

There are two polar vortices in the atmosphere of planet Earth, one around the North Pole, and one around the South Pole. Each polar vortex is a persistent, large scale cyclone, circling the planet’s geographical pole. The bases of the two polar vortices are located in the middle and upper troposphere and extend into the stratosphere. They surround the polar high and lie in the wake of the polar front. These cold-core low-pressure areas strengthen in the winter and weaken in the summer due to their dependence upon the temperature differential between the equator and the poles. They usually span less than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in diameter within which the air circulates in a counter-clockwise fashion in the Northern Hemisphere, and in a clockwise fashion in the Southern Hemisphere. As with other cyclones, their rotation is caused by the Coriolis effect.

The Northern Hemisphere vortex often contains two low pressure centers, one near Baffin Island, Canada and the other over northeast Siberia. Within the Antarctic vortex in the Southern Hemisphere a single low pressure zone tends to be located near the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf near 160 west longitude. When the polar vortex is strong, the Westerlies increase in strength. When the polar cyclone is weak, the general flow pattern across mid-latitudes buckles and significant cold outbreaks occur. Ozone depletion occurs within the polar vortex, particularly over the Southern Hemisphere, and reaches a maximum in the spring.

Polar cyclones are climatological features that hover near the poles year-round. The stratospheric polar vortex develops pole-ward and above the subtropical jet stream. Since polar vortices exist from the stratosphere downward into the mid-troposphere, a variety of heights/pressure levels within the atmosphere can be checked for its existence. Within the stratosphere, strategies such as the use of the 4 mb pressure surface, which correlates to the 1200K isentropic surface, located midway up the stratosphere, is used to create climatologies of the feature. Due to model data unreliability, other techniques use the 50 mb pressure surface to identify its stratospheric location. At the level of the tropopause, the extent of closed contours of  potential temperature can be used to determine its strength. Horizontally, most polar vortices have a radius of less than 1,000 kilometers. Others have used levels down to the 500 hPa pressure level (about 5,460 meters (17,910 ft) above sea level during the winter) to identify the polar vortex.

Polar vortices are weaker during summer and strongest during winter. Individual vortices can persist for more than a month. Extra-trophical cyclones that occlude and migrate into higher latitudes create cold-core lows within the polar vortex. Volcanic eruptions in the tropics lead to a stronger polar vortex during the winter for as long as two years afterwards. The strength and position of the cyclone shapes the flow pattern across the hemisphere of its influence. An index which is used in the northern hemisphere to gauge its magnitude is the Artic oscillation.

The Arctic vortex is elongated in shape, with two centers, one normally located over Baffin Island in Canada and the other over northeast Siberia. Around the North Pole, the Arctic vortex spins counterclockwise with wind speeds of 80 mph, stronger than the jet stream’s normal 70 mph winds. In rare events, when the general flow pattern is amplified, the vortex can push farther south as a result of axis interruption. The Antarctic polar vortex is more pronounced and persistent than the Artic one; this is because the distribution of land masses at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere gives rise to Rossby waves which contribute to the breakdown of the vortex, whereas in the Southern Hemisphere the vortex remains less disturbed. The breakdown of the polar vortex is an extreme event known as a sudden stratospheric sudden stratospheric warming, here the vortex completely breaks down and an associated warming of 30–50 °C (54–90 °F) over a few days can occur.

The formation of the polar vortex is primarily influenced by the movement of wind and transfer of heat in the polar region. In the autumn, the circumpolar winds increase in speed, causing the polar vortex to spin up further into the stratosphere and the values of potential vorticity to heighten, forming a coherent air mass: the polar vortex. As the winter comes, the winds around the poles decrease, and the air in the vortex core cools. The movement of the air becomes slow, and the vortex stops growing. Once late winter and early spring approach, heat and wind circulation return, causing the vortex to shrink. During the final warming, or the late winter, large fragments of the vortex air are drawn out into narrow pieces into lower latitudes. In the bottom level of the stratosphere, strong potential vorticity gradients remain, and the majority of air molecules remain confined into December in the Southern Hemisphere and April in the Northern Hemisphere, well after the breakup of the vortex in the mid-stratosphere.

The breakup of the polar vortex occurs between middle March to middle May, the average date being April 10. This event signifies the transition from winter to spring, and has impacts on the hydrological cycle, growing seasons of vegetation, and overall ecosystem productivity. The timing of the transition also influences differences in sea ice, ozone, air temperature, and cloudiness. Early and late polar breakup episodes have occurred, due to variations in the stratospheric flow structure and upward spreading of planetary waves from the troposphere. As a result of increased waves into the vortex, the vortex experiences higher amounts of heat sooner than the normal warming period, resulting in a faster season transition from winter to summer. As for late breakups, the waves dismantle the vortex later than normal, causing a delay in the season transition. The early breakup years are also characterized with persistence of remnants of the vortex, while the late breaking years have a quick disappearance of these remnants. In the early breakup phases, only one warming period occurs from late February to middle March, contrasting to the two warming periods that the late breakup phases have in January and March. Zonal mean temperature, wind, and geopotential height exert varying deviations from their normal values before and after early breakups, while the deviations remain constant before and after late breakups. Scientists are connecting a delay in the Arctic vortex breakup with a reduction of planetary wave activities, few stratospheric sudden warming events, and depletion of ozone.

Sudden stratospheric warming events, when temperatures within the stratosphere warm dramatically over a short time, are associated with weaker polar vortices. This warming of stratospheric air can cause the direction of circulation in the Arctic Polar Vortex to go from counter-clockwise to clockwise. These changes aloft force changes below in the troposphere. An example of an effect on the troposphere is the change in speed of the Atlantic Ocean circulation pattern. A soft spot just south of Greenland is where the initial step of down-welling occurs, nicknamed the “Achilles Heel of the North Atlantic”. Small amounts of heating or cooling traveling from the polar vortex can trigger or delay down-welling, causing circulation of heat through the Atlantic Ocean currents to be stopped or sped up. Since all other oceans depend on the Atlantic Ocean for the transmission of heat and energy, climates across the planet can change dramatically. The weakening or strengthening of the polar vortex can alter the sea circulation more than one mile below the waves. Strengthening storm systems within the troposphere can act to intensify the polar vortex by significantly cooling the poles. La Nina – related climate anomalies tend to favor significant strengthening of the polar vortex. Intensification of the polar vortex is also associated with changes in relative humidity as downward intrusions of dry, stratospheric air enter into the vortex core. With a strengthening of the vortex comes a longwave cooling due to a decrease in water vapor concentration near the vortex. The decreased water content is a result of a lower tropo-pause within the inside of the vortex, which places dry stratospheric air above moist tropospheric air. Instability is caused when the vortex tube, the line of concentrated vorticity, is displaced. When this occurs, the vortex rings become more unstable and prone to shifting by planetary waves. The planetary wave activity in both hemispheres varies year-to-year, producing a corresponding response in the strength and temperature of the polar vortex. The number of waves around the perimeter of the vortex are related to the core size; as the vortex core decreases, the number of waves increase.

The degree of the mixing of polar and mid-latitude air depends on the evolution and position of the polar night jet. In general, the combination of these two remains small inside the vortex compared to the outside. Mixing occurs with unstable planetary waves that are characteristic of the middle and upper stratosphere in winter. Prior to vortex breakdown, there is little transport of air out of the Arctic Polar Vortex due to strong barriers exist above 420 km (261 miles). Below this barrier exists the polar night jet, which is weak in the early winter, so any descending polar air mixes with the mid-latitudes. In the late winter, air parcels do not descend as much, causing mixing to be less frequent. After the vortex is broken up, the ex-vortex air is dispersed into the middle latitudes within a month.

Sometimes, a piece of the polar vortex can be broken off before the end of the final warming period. If large enough, the piece can plunge over Canada and the Midwestern, Central, Southern, and Northeastern United States. This diversion of the polar vortex can occur due to the displacement of the polar jet stream, such as the significant northwestern push of the polar jet stream over the western part of the United States in the winter of 2013–2014. Occasionally, the high-pressure Greenland Block can cause the low pressure polar vortex to divert to the south instead of sweeping across the North Atlantic.

A recent study found that stratospheric circulation can have anomalous effects on weather regimes. In the same year researchers found a statistical correlation between weak polar vortex and outbreaks of severe cold in the Northern Hemisphere. In more recent years scientists identified interactions with Artic sea ice decline, reduced snow cover, evapotranspiration patterns, NAO anomalies or weather anomalies which are linked to the polar vortex and jet stream configuration. However, because the specific observations are considered short-term observations there is considerable uncertainty in the conclusions. Climatology observations require several decades to definitively distinguish natural variability from climate trends.

The general assumption is that reduced snow cover and sea ice reflect less sunlight and therefore evaporation and transpiration increases, which in turn alters the pressure and temperature gradient of the polar vortex, causing it to weaken or collapse. This becomes apparent when the jet stream amplitude increases over the northern hemisphere, causing Rossby waves to propagate farther to the south or north, which in turn transports warmer air to the north pole and polar air into lower latitudes. The jet stream amplitude increases with a weaker polar vortex, hence increases the chance for weather systems to become blocked. A recent blocking event emerged when a high-pressure over Greenland steered Hurricane Sandy into the northern Mid-Atlantic States.

The chemistry of the Antarctic polar vortex has created severe ozone depletion. The nitric acid in polar stratospheric clouds reacts with chlorofluorocarbons to form chlorine, which catalyzes the photochemical destruction of ozone. Chlorine concentrations build up during the polar winter, and the consequent ozone destruction is greatest when the sunlight returns in spring. These louds can only form at temperatures below about −80 °C (−112 °F). Since there is greater air exchange between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes, ozone depletion at the North Pole is much less severe than at the south. Accordingly, the seasonal reduction of ozone levels over the Arctic is usually characterized as an “ozone dent”, whereas the more severe ozone depletion over the Antarctic is considered an “ozone hole”. This said, chemical ozone destruction in the 2011 Arctic polar vortex attained, for the first time, a level clearly identifiable as an Arctic “ozone hole.”

Kathy Kiefer


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Autumn leaf color is a phenomenon that affects the normally green leaves of many deciduous trees and shrubs by which they take on, during a few weeks in the autumn season, various shades of red, yellow, purple, black, orange, pink, magenta, blue and brown. The phenomenon is commonly called autumn colours or autumn foliage in British English and fall colors, fall foliage, or simply foliage in American English.

In some areas of Canada and the United States, “leaf peeping” tourism is a major contribution to economic activity. This tourist activity occurs between the beginning of color changes and the onset of leaf fall, usually around October in the Northern Hemisphere and April to May in the Southern Hemisphere.

A green leaf is green because of the presence of a pigment known as chlorophyll, which is inside an organelle called a chloroplast. When they are abundant in the leaf’s cells, as they are during the growing season, the chlorophylls’ green color dominates and masks out the colors of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf. Thus the leaves of summer are characteristically green.   Chlorophyll has a vital function: that of capturing solar rays and utilizing the resulting energy in the manufacture of the plant’s food.   During the growing season, however, the plant replenishes the chlorophyll so that the supply remains high and the leaves stay green.

In late summer, as daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool, the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf are gradually closed off as a layer of special cork cells forms at the base of each leaf. As this cork layer develops, water and mineral intake into the leaf is reduced, lowly at first, and then more rapidly. It is during this time that the chlorophyll begins to decrease. Often the veins will still be green after the tissues between them have almost completely changed color.

Chlorophylls degrade into colorless tetrapyrroles known as non-fluorescent chlorophyll catabolites (NCCs). As the chlorophylls degrade, the hidden pigments of yellow xanthophylls and orange beta-carotene are revealed. These pigments are present throughout the year, but the red pigments, the anthocyanins, are synthesized de novo once roughly half of chlorophyll has been degraded. The amino acids released from degradation of light harvesting complexes are stored all winter in the tree’s roots, branches, stems, and trunk until next spring when they are recycled to re‑leaf the tree.   Carotenoids are present in leaves the whole year round, but their orange-yellow colors are usually masked by green chlorophyll. As autumn approaches, certain influences both inside and outside the plant cause the chlorophylls to be replaced at a slower rate than they are being used up. During this period, with the total supply of chlorophylls gradually dwindling, the “masking” effect slowly fades away. Then other pigments that have been present (along with the chlorophylls) in the cells all during the leaf’s life begin to show through. These are carotenoids and they provide colorations of yellow, brown, orange, and the many hues in between.

The carotenoids occur, along with the chlorophyll pigments, in tiny structures called plastids within the cells of leaves. Sometimes they are in such abundance in the leaf that they give a plant a yellow-green color, even during the summer. Usually, however, they become prominent for the first time in autumn, when the leaves begin to lose their chlorophyll. Carotenoids are common in many living things, giving characteristic color to carrots, corn, canaries and daffodils, as well as egg yolks, rutabagas, buttercups and bananas.   Their brilliant yellows and oranges tint the leaves of such hardwood species as hickories, ash, maple, yellow poplar, aspen, birch, black cherry, sycamore, cottonwood, sassafras and alder. Carotenoids are the dominant pigment in coloration of about 15-30% of tree species.

The reds, the purples, and their blended combinations that decorate autumn foliage come from another group of pigments in the cells called anthocyanins. They develop in late summer in the sap of the cells of the leaf, and this development is the result of complex interactions of many influences — both inside and outside the plant. Their formation depends on the breakdown of sugars in the presence of bright light as the level of phosphate in the leaf is reduced.   During the summer growing season, phosphate is at a high level. It has a vital role in the breakdown of the sugars manufactured by chlorophyll. But in the fall, phosphate, along with the other chemicals and nutrients, moves out of the leaf into the stem of the plant. When this happens, the sugar-breakdown process changes, leading to the production of anthocyanin pigments. The brighter the light during this period, the greater the production of anthocyanins and the more brilliant the resulting color display. When the days of autumn are bright and cool, and the nights are chilly but not freezing, the brightest colorations usually develop.

Anthocyanins temporarily color the edges of some of the very young leaves as they unfold from the buds in early spring. They also give the familiar color to such common fruits as cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries and plums.   Anthocyanins are present in about 10% of tree species in temperate regions, although in certain areas — most famously New England — up to 70% of tree species may produce the pigment. In autumn forests they appear vivid in the maples, oaks, sourwood, sweet gums, dogwoods, tupelos, cherry trees and persimmons. These same pigments often combine with the carotenoids’ colors to create the deeper orange, fiery reds, and bronzes typical of many hardwood species.

The brown color of leaves is not the result of a pigment, but rather cell walls, which may be evident when no coloring pigment is visible.   Deciduous plants were traditionally believed to shed their leaves in autumn primarily because the high costs involved in their maintenance would outweigh the benefits from photosynthesis during the winter period of low light availability and cold temperatures. In many cases this turned out to be over-simplistic — other factors involved include insect predation, water loss, and damage from high winds or snowfall.

In the matter of apple trees, not all domesticated apple varieties (unlike wild ones) lack red leaves in autumn. A greater proportion of aphids that avoid apple trees with red leafs manage to grow and develop compared to those that do not. A trade off exists between fruit size, leaf color and aphids resistance as varieties with red leaves have smaller fruits suggesting a cost to the production of red leafs linked to a greater need for reduced aphid infestation.   Consistent with red leaved tree providing reduced survival for aphids, tree species with bright leaves tend to select for more specialist aphid pests than do trees lacking bright leaves (autumn colors are useful only in those species coevolving with insect pests in autumn). Autumn colors would be a signal if they are costly to produce, or be impossible to fake (for example if autumn pigments were produced by the same biochemical pathway that produces the chemical defenses against the insects). The change of leaf colors prior to fall have also been suggested as adaptations that may help to undermine the camouflage of herbivores.

Many plants with berries attract birds with especially visible berry and/or leaf color, particularly bright red. The birds get a meal while the shrub, vine or typically small tree gets undigested seeds carried off and deposited with the birds’ manure.  Poison Ivy is particularly notable for having bright red foliage drawing birds to its off-white seeds (which are edible for birds, but not most mammals).

Although some autumn coloration occurs wherever deciduous trees are found, the most brightly colored autumn foliage is found in four or five regions of the world: most of southern mainland Canada; most of the eastern part of the United States as well as smaller areas of forest further west; Scandinavia; Northern, and Western Europe north of the Alps; the Caucasus region near the Black Sea, Russia and Eastern Asia, including much of northern and eastern China, as well as Argentina, Chile, southern Brazil, Korea, Japan and New Zealand’s South Island. Eastern Canada and the New England region of the United States are famous around the world for the brilliance of their “fall foliage,” and a seasonal tourist industry has grown up around the few weeks in autumn when the leaves are at their peak. Thick forest cover and distinct seasonal changes make this part of the world an ideal setting for the types of deciduous trees that produce wonderful fall foliage.  Fall colors are typically at their peaks in early to mid-October for much of the northern and interior parts of the area, late October for areas further south, and early November for the warmer subtropical areas of the region.

Some television and web-based weather forecasts even report on the status of the fall foliage throughout the season as a service to tourists, the most well-known of which is The Weather Channel. Fall foliage tourists are often referred to as “leaf peepers”. Fall foliage tours to the Rocky Mountain States, the northwestern United States and far western Canada are becoming more popular as well. The Japanese momijigari tradition is similar, though more closely related to hanami. In Finland the time of the year is called ruska (russeting). In Latvia during russeting, leaf peeping is promoted both internationally and locally. Other lands may also promote this, but mushrooming may be more culturally significant, for example in Lithuania provides many more arbor species (more than 800 species and about 70 oaks, compared to 51 and three respectively in Western Europe) which adds many more different colors to the spectacle. The main reason was the different effect of the ice ages—while in North America, species were protected in more southern regions along north–south ranging mountains, which was not the case in Europe.

Global warming and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere delay the usual autumn spectacle of changing colors and falling leaves in northern hardwood forests, and increase forest productivity. Experiments with poplar trees showed that they stayed greener longer with higher CO2 levels, independent of temperature changes. However, the experiments over two years were too brief to indicate how mature forests may be impacted over time. Also, other factors, such as increasing ozone levels close to the ground (tropospheric ozone pollution); can negate the beneficial effects of elevated carbon dioxide.


Kathy Kiefer


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There are so many ways to decorate your home, a classroom (if you’re an educator), even your office, for autumn and fall.     I am honored to share some fascinating decorating ideas. There are so many possibilities for decorating at this time of year.   If you are thinking “But I am not that creative!!!” Don’t sell yourself short on your abilities.   Families can participate in the decorating; you can get some ideas on line or even visiting craft stores to get ideas or supplies for decorating as well.

Autumn’s cooler temperatures may bring people indoors, but with them can come the beauty of the changing season and the bounty of harvest time. To decorate your home for fall, begin with a walk-through. Select focal points in each room, beginning at the front door and working your way through each part of the house. Look for items both outside and in stores to create vignettes on mantels, tables, furniture and walls. Remove decorative traces of summer or even everyday accent pieces so you can fill your living spaces with the colors and textures of fall.

Autumn or fall is the best time of the year to incorporate earth tone colors into your home decorations. The return of cooler temperatures, fall colors, and nature changing before our eyes is all the evidence we need that autumn is officially here.  Adding autumn touches of decor to your home will help you transition into the new season with excitement of the passing of the year. From the exterior to the interior of your home, fall decor colors can be rich and robust or subtle and subdued.   You might even want to jump into a pile of leaves to celebrate autumn!

Welcome guests with a beautiful autumn wreath at your front door.     Simple grapevine wreaths are gorgeous on their own.  If you prefer more adornment consider adding pine cones, leaves, berries and corn husks to your wreath.  If you have a large home with many windows that face the entry of your home, consider placing matching wreaths hung from these windows as well

Dress up your front porch with fall inspiration.   Begin at the front door and entryway. Hang a wreath made of gourds, leaves and berries on the door. Place a variety of sizes and colors of potted mums on the entryway steps or flanking the door. Wrap garland around a porch railing or mailbox pole. Hang an autumn flag on a flagpole. Use tall corn stalks, raffia, or straw to wrap around entry porch columns and mailboxes. Use thick colored ribbon in deep oranges and browns to contrast with the straw. Carry these same materials into lanyards or garlands around your front door and entry.   In your front foyer or a location on a predominate wall; fall artwork can change the mood in your home instantly.  Consider nature themes with fall colors in oranges, rusts, and golden yellows. If you prefer more abstract art, oil paintings with browns, reds, and burnt umber will make a statement without being obvious. Create an appealing, fall-inspired entryway or foyer. Fill a vase with cut sunflowers or dried grasses. Hang a picture with a fall theme on the wall above or behind the vase. Place a container of gourds and pumpkins on a table or set it on the floor.

Bring the season’s natural beauty inside. Create a cornucopia or a basket of fruits, vegetables, nuts and berries as a centerpiece for the dining room table. Empty a shelf in a hutch and create a nature scene with dried leaves, berries, twigs, pine cones and birds. Drape berry garland on hanging light fixtures and at the base of candles. Sit potted fall mums near a window to tie in outdoor colors with the room.

Use your fireplace to showcase seasonal décor. Your fireplace mantel has been waiting for this season! Whether you look in your yard, or you travel to an arts and crafts store, dried leaves and pine cones make great décor. Small pumpkins, gourds or dried leaf vines, and colorful candles will brighten your mantle and spirits.

Incorporate fall hues, textures and smells into living spaces. Place a quilt with fall patterns and colors over a sofa or chair. Toss pillows in assorted fall colors on the sofa. Accent a mantel or shelf with gourds, garlands and fall-scented candles. Replace framed pictures with fall wreaths or harvest tapestries. Add baskets and bowls of pine cones, acorns, walnuts and pumpkin-scented potpourri to coffee tables. Arrange coordinated, framed fall prints or pressed leaves to create a focal point on a wall.

Accent the bathroom with fall touches. Set out spice, pumpkin or apple-scented candles. Prop up a wreath on a shelf along with small gourds and leaves, or make an arrangement of asters, mums and leaf stems.

Dining room table centerpieces/settings can welcome in fall.   Depending on if you want to go formal or casual for your table, choose colors that reflect your home decor and the season.  Consider using red and yellow apples for an informal organic and edible centerpiece.  Remember, the centerpiece doesn’t have to be stagnant, add or detract from it throughout the season for added visual interest.  For more formality consider place settings and table linen that has hints of fall colors and themes.

Hang heavier drapery and curtains.   Now that the cooler temperatures are settling in, prepare your home by switching out the lighter fabrics for heavier ones.  Deeper colors and heavier fabrics will feel warmer and hold more air out of the room.  Changing to fall shades to match your decor will bring instant color from floor to ceiling.

Change slipcovers over furniture for simple color change.   Colorful slipcovers can quickly and inexpensively add color to any room.  Slipcovers can be formal or casual depending on the weight of the fabric and color. Decide on which fits your decor, and consider formal dining room chair slipcovers, as well.

Cooler temperatures mean cozy sitting areas.   As the temperatures begin to fall, bring out the fall colored throw blankets to place on couches or in adjacent baskets. Complimenting fall colored throw pillows will complete any cozy nook for you cuddle up and enjoy a good book.

Alternate accessories in individual rooms. Add fall colors to every room in your house by changing throw pillows, area rugs, bed and bath linen to fall colors that blend perfectly with your decor. Try grouping small pumpkins on a kitchen counter top to add instant color and fall inspiration to an ordinarily boring counter top.

Bring the aromas of fall into your home. Fall decor can be visual but it also involves your other senses such as smell.  Pumpkin pies, cinnamon apple cider, and first burning of your fireplace are all welcome aromatic ways to make your home feel full of autumn inspiration. One also may decide using candles, incense, or boil a pot of spices – cinnamon sticks, cloves, and nutmeg to instantly transport your home into fall mode.

Fill jars with seasonal colored items. For simple and inexpensive display items, fill mason jars or decorative glass jars with candy corn, or other colorful novelty items.  Try filling various sizes with colorful dried beans, or healthy after school snacks for the kids.  Decor can be functional and beautiful

Use your imagination with fall D.I.Y. projects. Fall is the perfect time to visit home improvement stores and arts and crafts stores for inspiration. Look for workshops and home decorating tips being offered for free at these locations.  Fall decorating cable television programs on home improvement networks are also a good resource for grabbing inspiration.

Bring fall to the exterior of your home with light.   Luminaries are not just for the winter holiday season, they are perfect for fall too as the sun starts to set earlier in the afternoon. Battery powered candles placed inside paper bags with sand in the bottom, makes perfect luminaries.  For the traditional type, place candles inside bags and light individually at dusk.

Start preparing for Halloween. Whether you celebrate this holiday or not, the colors and symbols can be incorporated in your home decor inside and out. Use pumpkins and shades of orange and black throughout your home to get ready for this holiday in October.  If you opt out of the scary Halloween theme, throw a festive ‘welcoming autumn’ party to have neighbors and kids welcome in the passing of the seasons.

Plan fall activities with family. The fall is a great time to celebrate homecomings for school sports, attend sporting events and pick apples in orchards! Involve your family and enjoy the outdoors before the cold winter creeps up on us!

Bring in warmth and enjoy your home before it is bustling with activity for the winter holiday!

Kathy Kiefer


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What makes spring special in many places of our world?    Why do people look forward to the spring?   The whole world (or, at least, the entire Northern Hemisphere) is celebrating the return of spring.   Spring time is the ideal time for festivals: just as the winter goes away and nature comes back to life.  Spring is the time for rebirth and renewal.   In early spring, frost may still rime the windows in the morning, but we can feel the promise of a new season in each passing day. Almost imperceptibly, the sun warms, the day lengthens, and the air seems pure and thin as it takes on the scent of freshly turned soil, emerging green and soft rains. Spring is a time of awakening, of healing and renewal, of the dawning and planting of new ideas. The world seems young and virgin again.     Here are just some of the many fascinating facts that I have found.

In March, spring is official no matter what the weather report says. It arrives this year at 1:46 a.m. on March 21 (8:46 p.m. EST on March 20). That’s the vernal equinox, the time that the sun crosses the Earth’s equator from south to north and one of only two times in the year when day and night are equal in length. (The vernal equinox doesn’t fall on the same day every year because the length of the calendar year doesn’t quite correspond with that of the solar year; the first day of spring varies from March 19 to March 21.)

In earlier times, the vernal equinox was considered the beginning of the New Year. It has always been an important day to those who work the land because it signifies the beginning of the season of regeneration and growth. We can empathize with the ancients’ joy at the resurrection of the sun god from the underworld. It’s spring!    Folklore has it that the vernal equinox is the only day of the year when an egg can be stood on its end. Even though that’s not true, we can admire the imagery. Eggs are, in fact, nature’s perfect symbol for springtime and new beginnings. In March, when life is quickening in its seemingly miraculous annual way, we can’t help but ponder the cosmic egg of creation. Our newly hatched world is green, new, fresh, and as innocent as the dawn.

As spring reaches those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the world is beginning anew. The spring rains are bringing forth new growth all around us, and the temperature is finally creeping warmer virtually every day. It’s no wonder that Spring is considered to be a prime time for celebration throughout the world.

Clover and other three-leaved plants were once considered spring gifts from the fairies to protect us and bring luck. Other herbs that have been associated with spring rituals through history include vervain, a sacred herb for witches that supposedly ensured wealth, love, and protection; honeysuckle, for vision and inspiration; and broom, which was burned to purify homes and protect their inhabitants.

Today, as we watch the season unfold, we’re apt to bring pussy willow or forsythia branches indoors to open their flowers in the warmth. We look for the early bulbs, whose bright color is so welcome after the drab dormancy of winter. We search out the new shoots of chives and chervil and other early risers to bring a touch of freshness to salads and cooked vegetables.

Like animals coming out of hibernation, we find new energy in this ­season of promise. We launch spring-cleaning projects. We shed our heavy coats and dark clothes to enjoy the occasional warm days of early spring. Many begin the satisfying ritual of sprouting seeds under lights in the basement or in a sunny window. Germinating seeds of favorite herbs is a wonderful way to experience spring before it actually arrives. It lets us plunge our hands into moist potting soil, so enjoy the process of seeds’ sprouting, then growing into little plants that we can nurture along and begin a relationship with.
This time of year brings the Chinese celebration of Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese Lunar New Year. Chinese people often put up long rolls of red paper with black writing and pictures of fierce-looking creatures on either side of their front door. The red paper rolls usually contain lines of poetry transcribed by a calligrapher and the Gods Shen Tu and Yu Lei, who are believed to protect people from devils and evil spirits

The spring Pakistani festival of Basant is held in the ancient eastern city of Lahore. This festival is marked by a litany of kite-flying, rooftop soirees, garden parties and equestrian events. Locals and tourists alike don glamorous clothes, in the yellow and green of spring flowers blooming citywide, to bid farewell to the frosts and fogs of winter and usher in spring.

In Germany, the celebration of Walpurgisnacht on April 30th and May 1st celebrates the release of winter’s hold on the land and the oncoming joy of summer. Children celebrate in a similar fashion to Halloween, playing pranks on unsuspecting victims as midnight draws near. Many people hold witches’ fires to ward off the evil spirits of winter. And on May 1st, it is believed that the earth spirits like sprites and fairies emerge to bring the land safely to summer. People celebrate with great feasts of food and drink as the look forward to the coming of summer.

During the times of ancient Rome, spring was fêted with the Feast of Floralia. This celebration marked the flowering of the grains and the bounty of the animals as spring continued. It’s actually believed that the egg became an important symbol during this time period, as it noted both the egg that brought forth life and the egg that nourished people. As this festival evolved, people began creating eggs out of many materials, including chocolate, as gifts for their loved ones. Young matrons carried these eggs with them in baskets throughout the Spring, trying to determine the possible gender of a future child.

In the British Isles, many people celebrate the Festival of Beltane on May Day. Lighting fires was customary at this time, and traditionally a Beltane fire (very similar to the witches’ fires of Germany) was composed of the nine sacred woods of the Celts. When daylight comes, people celebrate by dancing and singing around a maypole tied with colorful streamers or ribbons.

Easter – Throughout the Christian world, Easter is the most important spring holiday. Although the significance of Easter is mainly religious, one can’t neglect that, in addition to being a reminder of the day when Jesus Christ resurrected, Easter is also an occasion to celebrate spring. Easter is associated with the most beautiful and unique traditions, from coloring eggs and cooking the delicious Easter pie, to making gifts and throwing water on women. In Spain, the Semana Santa (the Easter Week) has a special significance: the events and processions that take place in Seville are probably the most famous. Here, the religious brotherhoods are walking on the city’s streets and carrying huge religious sculptures, named pasos. In Washington, DC on Easter Monday is the annual Easter Egg roll on the White House Lawn.  In ancient Egypt and Persia, where spring was celebrated as the beginning of the year, decorated eggs were exchanged at the equinox, eggs being the universal symbol of creation and fertility. In England, a royal household record from 1290 indicates that King Edward I ordered 450 eggs to be dyed or gilded for Easter gifts.   Polish legends tell of miracles. One has the Virgin Mary delivering eggs to the soldiers at the cross, begging them to be kind; as she wept, her tears fell on the eggs and spotted them with brilliant color. Another maintains that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, she brought along eggs with her for a meal; when she arrived and uncovered the eggs, the white shells had taken on the colors of the rainbow.

Passover – One of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, Passover commemorates the story of the ancient Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt – items on this “Seder plate” showcase symbolic foods related to the story. The weeklong holiday always falls during the spring season, based on a biblical commandment: “Guard the month of spring, and make then the Passover offering.”

St. Patrick’s Day – Initially a religious holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day is now celebrated all over the world. Whether this holiday’s popularity has anything to do with the invasion of Irish pubs, or it is just the Irish taking their traditions everywhere they go, one thing is for sure, it is worth attending the noisy parade, tasting a slice of soda bread and wearing something green.

Indian Spring Festival – In India, each region and ethnic group has its own way of welcoming spring time. But one of the biggest and most colorful spring festival in the country remains the Holi, which usually takes place in late March. During the Holi, people are trying to let their senses loose, charge with positive energy, dance on drum rhythms and eat homemade cookies named Goojhas.

Takayama Spring Festival – Takayama Spring Festival is among the most popular festivals in Japan. The festival takes place in the picturesque city of Takayama, in the Gifu prefecture. The biggest attractions are the Shinto music and dance representations, together with the parade of the huge floats (each float is actually a stage for puppet theater representations – the region is famous for its traditional crafts and hand-made puppets). In case you have other plans this spring, you could also go to Takayama during autumn, as the festival takes place two times a year.

St. Petersburg White Nights Festival – Visiting the splendid city of St. Petersburg might prove to be the most inspired idea you had in years. This is the time when daytime starts reaching incredible durations, marking the beginning of the White Nights, a period when St. Petersburg nightlife and cultural activity are reaching their climax. The white nights are not only called this way because the sun doesn’t set, but also because visitors and locals refuse to sleep. On the 27th of May, the city’s day, the streets will be filled by the sound of military orchestras and colorful parades

Walpurgis Night – Named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga, this traditional spring festival is celebrated across Central and Northern Europe — exactly 6 months after All Hallows’ Eve. Among the places that hold celebrations (which include dancing and bonfires) is the open-air museum of Skansen in Stockholm.

Las Fallas – Whimsical characters, known as fallas, are a familiar sight during this annual 5-day celebration. The origin of one of Spain’s most rowdy holidays is uncertain; some say Las Fallas began in the Middle Ages, when artisans burned pieces of wood they’d saved during the winter in celebration of the spring equinox. Over time, under the Catholic Church’s influence, the holiday has developed into a celebration to commemorate Saint Joseph.

May Day never was celebrated as much in the United States as it is in Great Britain because of the Puritans’ discouragement of the day as a pagan holiday. However, many American communities still celebrate this time with May queens and the hanging of May baskets filled with flowers and chocolates on the doorknobs of friends and family.

One spring ritual that always graces the news in the United States is the blooming of the cherry trees in Washington D.C. These beautiful trees that line the Tidal Basin in the capital of the United States were a gift from Japan over 100 years ago and bloom every spring and bring with them a site that every American should see at least once, a sweet smell to the air that not even modern pollution can dim, and a warmth of the knowledge that spring has indeed arrived. The blooming of these trees is always eagerly awaited by both locals and tourists alike, and the few benches along the route are often taken in the wee hours of the morning by sightseers waking up with a bit of coffee or hot chocolate from a vending cart.

Kathy Kiefer


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With the renewal of Spring time and the world literally and symbolically in full bloom, nature has stepped gracefully forward reminding us of all of the beauty life has to offer—each and every one of us.

Spring time brings with it hope of new life, warmth and sun.  Whether you celebrate Easter or other religious celebrations at this time year, they all are filled with many symbols and rituals.   Many say spring-time is when love is in the air.    Why is this?

The spring season contemplates a new beginning and epitomizes romance in its own way.  Spring romance can induce perfect streak of romance in the love life of a couple.  We joyfully welcome new beginnings in our life with the freshness of spring time.  You can take a new path toward romance and get mesmerized by the enchantment it savors upon each love struck individual.   Just as Mother Nature brings forth new growth, buds and flowers, you could bloom a new bud of love into your life.    You could also paint your world with the color of romance.   Spring is a time of renewal — remembering you are alive, emerging from hibernation, and sprouting forth with new energy and focus. It is also a time when it is nearly impossible to pay attention.  Longer days.  Sunshine and blue skies calling you outside, transporting you to a magical place.

With a fresh viewpoint and new-found feeling of hopefulness we often find ourselves in moments of inner reflection and quiet contemplation. The core of this might be as simple as thinking—I feel so hope-filled and at peace at this moment, how might this continue?   It might be as simple as  reviewing past actions in an effort to move forward in a positive direction—to do more good, to feel this inner peace more frequently or to reach a higher place of being—having the ability to share more light and love with others.

Smell of spring is a new beginning and, like any other season, this, of romance in his own way. To induce perfect springtime romance strip of romance in the love life of a couple. Welcome new start in life with the freshness of spring your life. Take a new edge on the path of romance and fascinated by the magic, love the taste of each affected individual. Bloom, a new bud of love in your life, like Mother Nature, as they make a new beginning. Paint your world with the color of romance and is injected.  Get started with ideas of romance in this spring season and enjoy the difference that your love for life.

With the spring season is the variety of fruits and vegetables available during this time known. With so many possibilities and options, a delicacy, the original idea to cook for a romance. You can cook a perfect recipe for your sweetheart. Get with your cooking skills and the magic of love, romance than a bath in the spread properly. Get to work, cooking a storm in the kitchen and set up the perfect romantic day.

Spring is the best season for a special a romantic day when the things are just starting to burst forth with beauty and color. The beauty of nature welcomes you to spend the day and enjoy nearby. Take a walk in the night on his way amid the fresh flowering of trees and plants. Enjoy a romantic long journey amid the darkness of nature with a cool breeze brush against you. Plan a full day of fun and steal moments of togetherness.

The season of spring is the best time to go for a picnic. The bloom of nature and the twittering of birds make the season perfect for a picnic. Re ignite your flame of love or light a flame of love while on a picnic. Get a taste of love with the taste of romance as you for a day. Infuse nature in your life and then step forward for a happy day. With gorgeous goodies as your company steals your heart from your heart through the stomach and an explosion in the season.

The spring season is known for the wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables available at this juncture.  Use some of this wonderful fresh produce and go on a picnic, one could plan for moments of intimacy or be spontaneous and it helps to turn an uneventful day into a joyful one.  Another possibility would be to go on a boat trip along the rivers and canals. Get romantic as you ride through the waterways for a smooth ride of love and romance. Another idea would be to steal a view of the landscape, while a horse’s back. There are many endless possibilities.

Sing the stories of romance; spread your love from the heart. Welcome new beginning with the attacks of joy and happiness in your life and multiply the joy, just as the spring season. Share the moments of love and weave stories of a new season of love. Embrace the beauty of nature and enjoy a spring romance.

 Renewal is learning how to face major changes in job, relationships, aging or health.   Perhaps the most important renewal is the beauty and depth of discovering love. Love for another and accepting your own self-love.

Every year, all over the Earth, human beings from all walks of life and from a myriad of faiths greet the coming of Spring with a lightness of step and joy in their hearts.  The invisible thread of ‘cosmic knowing’ that connects us with one another and with all life is inherent within the wisdom teachings of all genuine Spiritual paths, and it reminds us of the significance of the cycles and seasons of life.  Spring brings with her the invitation to awaken from Winter’s reflective and restful energy, to greet and embrace the opportunity for inspired new beginnings with enthusiasm and upliftment.

Our ‘cosmic knowing’ is quite literally an exquisite web of light that is alive within our core interconnectedness.  Today, the best Quantum Science of our time recognizes this truth, showing us deep space images revealing the universal web of light. The bridge of open heartedness and open mindedness that connects Science and Spirituality, East and West, Christian and Muslim is growing in strength as we grow in our self-awareness and mutual respect. And as spiritual beings having this amazing human experience, we are all called to strengthen this bridge by first connecting with the disparate parts of ourselves & then with those of our society.

 Why do we need to actively celebrate Spring every year?  Because we regularly forget our ‘cosmic knowing’ and our interconnectedness! Living in harmony with the natural cycles of life, supports us in being more aware and respectful of ourselves and of one another. That’s why humans from all cultures & belief systems have created such a wealth of beautiful rituals and practices designed to help us actively remember.  This Spring Festival of Renewal offers an opportunity to join together, human to human, soul to soul, heart to heart and belly to belly.  It is an opportunity to join together to awaken even more to your/our innate and natural state of happiness and to be inspired to be the active presence of joy, love and compassion in this world in ways that are life affirming and  sustainable

 Love is natural to the heart, but because of past emotional injuries from negative relationships we have learned to “over-protect” ourselves by building walls around it and shutting down the heart’s desires. Discover how to go beyond your fears and feelings of isolation and disappointment that separates us from other, even from ourselves.

 Learn effective and natural ways to open your heart and open yourself to a life filled with love, compassion and passion. Understand and get beyond those past influences that have caused you to abandon and close your heart’s natural acceptance of love. Use yoga postures, breathing exercises, music, different forms of chanting and spiritual quests to raise the heart’s vibration and energies and learn how to protect yourself from negative influences without “shutting-down.”

  So as the springtime season offers to the world a phenomenal sense of renewal and cleansing I have discovered what truly is the larger picture. This simple act of clearing out the junk and cobwebs that have accumulated within our body, mind and spirit is truly the “rebirth” of the spiritual and human desires of the soul.

Love is the source of everything.  By looking at any springtime vista—you can see Love is shimmering in everything. When you feel that Love, it makes us want to hold it sacred. To connect to the Love that’s in all of us, to practice keeping our attention in our hearts, is a great place to start.

We cultivate this Love through the nourishment of yoga, food, and connecting to the natural world, and by embracing the strength that resides within this seasonal transformation. From the tenderness of our hearts, we can find our greatest strength, just as the delicate bud bursts open into a powerful bloom with the arrival of spring.

Kathy Kiefer


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natale-negli-usaChristmas is a widely celebrated festive holiday in the United States. The Christmas and holiday season begins around the end of November with a major shopping kickoff on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, though Christmas decorations and music playing in stores sometimes extend into the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many schools and businesses are closed during the period between Christmas and the New Year’s Day holiday, which is a time commonly used to spend time with family, return unwanted gifts at stores, and shop after-Christmas sales. Most decorations are taken down by New Year’s or Epiphany.  Other observances considered part of the season (and potentially included in non-denominational holiday greetings such as “Happy Holidays”) include Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, Kwanza and winter solstice celebrations.

The interior and exterior of houses are decorated during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Christmas tree farms in the United States and dsc_0412Canada provide families with trees for their homes, many opting for artificial ones, but many prefer real trees.  Many people that have farms make a special treat of going out in their forest and cutting down their own tree.   The Christmas tree usually stands centrally in the home, decorated with ornaments, tinsel and lights, with an angel or a star symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem at the top.

Christmas Eve is popularly described as “the night before Christmas” in the poem actually titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  Better known as Santa Claus, he is said to visit homes while children are sleeping during the night before Christmas morning. The fireplaces have been replaced in many homes with an electronic fireplace, but the yule log has remained a tradition. Christmas stockings are hung on the mantelpiece for Santa Claus to fill with little gifts (“stocking stuffers”). It is tradition throughout the United States for children to leave a glass of milk and plate of Christmas cookies for Santa Claus nearby.

10097091-sorridente-famiglia-decorare-un-albero-di-natalePresents the family will exchange are wrapped and placed near the tree, including presents to be given to pets. Friends exchange wrapped presents and tell each other, “Do not open before Christmas!” Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and occasionally guests from out of town are entertained in the home or else visited. Wrapped presents are most commonly opened on the morning of Christmas Day; however, other families choose to open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve, depending on evolving family traditions, logistics, and the age of the children involved; for example, adults might open their presents on Christmas Eve and minor children on Christmas morning, or everyone might open their gifts on Christmas morning. Others follow the tradition of opening family-exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve night, followed by opening of the presents Santa brought on Christmas morning. Children are normally allowed to play with their new toys and games afterwards.

The traditional Christmas dinner usually features roasted turkey with stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham or roast beef (sometimes all three) and Yorkshire puddings.  Potatoes, squash, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce are served along with tonics and sherries.  A variety of sweet pastry and egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg are served in the United States. Certain dishes such as casseroles and desserts are prepared with a family recipe (usually kept a secret). Fruits, nuts, cheeses and chocolates are enjoyed as snacks.

Other traditions include a special church service on the Sunday before Christmas and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Candlelight services are held earlier in the evening for families with children. A re-enactment of the Nativity of Jesus called a Nativity play is another tradition.

Christmas-related attractions, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Radio City Music Hall for their Christmas Spectacular and elaborate DSC01410animated department store windows in New York City are heavily visited by tourists from all over the world, as well as native New Yorkers, Christmas music can be heard in the background. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one whose annual carol singing is well-recognized; another example is the Boys Choir can be heard singing Christmas Time is Here, a song featured in the animated television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  Christmas symphony orchestra and choral presentation such as Handel’s Messiah and performances of The Nutcracker ballet are well attended. Local radio stations may temporarily switch format to play exclusively Christmas music, some going to an all-Christmas format as early as mid-October. A few television stations broadcast a Yule Log without interruption for several hours. News broadcasts and talk shows feature Christmas-themed segments, emphasizing fellowship and goodwill among neighbors.    Also on television, there are a plethora of holiday themed specials and movies.

While tradition holds that the official Christmas starts on Thanksgiving with the stores ready to receive the Christmas shopper the day after Thanksgiving, unfortunately more and more in recent years many stores are starting to push things for Christmas just as children are going back to school right after Labor Day.   There are even stores that open on Thanksgiving Day or that evening to get a jump on the competition.     This is so wrong and really ruins the spirit of the season.   Just to make extra dollars it would seem.

Kathy Kiefer