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“Spring forward, fall back” — changing times October 31, 2008

The time change is this weekend, and I just realized how fuzzy I am about the origin of daylight savings. I’m always proud to remember “Spring Forward, Fall Back.” Josh and I talked it over the other day and I said I always thought it was so we could simply enjoy longer summer days, and so the schoolchildren didn’t have to stand in the dark at 7 a.m. waiting for the schoolbus in wintertime. Josh — who is from the part of Indiana that doesn’t observe time change, and is baffled by it — thought it had to do with conserving electricity.

(He refers to the time change as “changing time zones.” I tell him over and over it’s not changing time zones — if it were, then our favorite TV show House might come on at 7 p.m. like in Central Standard Time, which would be even more family-inappropriate than its current time slot of 8 p.m. [at our Eastern Standard].)

I know the boys will inevitably raise the question of what Daylight Savings Time is all about, so I thought we needed to be ready. Here’s the answer, in case you wind up in the same fix.

Fact is, the hours in a day are pretty much even nearest the equator; but the farther you get away, the less daylight you will get in the winter. So we turn the clocks back an hour to gain an extra hour of daylight. But it took lots of tinkering and political maneuvering to reach this seemingly simple solution. (My source is an article from Associated Content.)

It turns out Josh, who hadn’t even had benefit of Daylight Savings Time or stayed late at the pool enjoying the longer day his whole life, was closer to the real reasons behind it: proponents wanted it to conserve artificial electricity (which was in its infancy back then — and which, incidentally, bore you-know-who’s inventor’s stamp as well).

Benjamin Franklin invented many things. Has there been a visionary like him since? Turns out, he’s also behind Daylight Savings Time. But though it was originally Franklin’s idea (what wasn’t?), it was a man named William Willett who began pushing it with his pamphlet “Waste of Daylight” in 1907. The first proposal was to advance the clock 20 minutes once a week in spring, and push it back 20 minutes in the fall.

But those of us who could barely master “Spring Forward, Fall Back” twice a year would be in a tizzy over that, don’t you agree? So in 1925, it was decided that Daylight Savings Time should begin on the day following the third Saturday in April (or one week earlier if that day was Easter Day). The end date for Daylight Savings Time was set for the day after the first Saturday in October (tomorrow). It means we get an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning.

There are many other, more complicated factors involved. If you want to delve deeper, check out David Prerau’s very well reviewed book Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.

And for those whose children, like my husband Josh, are hung up on “time zones,” here’s an excellent juvenile title that offers a colorful world tour of time zones: Stacey Schuett’s Somewhere in the World Right Now (Reading Rainbow Book), which happens to be featured in my book The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever.

Happy Time Change, and if you are in participating territory, enjoy that extra hour of sleep this weekend! 

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



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