Skip to main content

Season of the Bureaucrat

Season of the Bureaucrat

Four times a year we read in the newspapers that “today is the official start of fall,” or whatever season it may be. The notion of some government functionary dictating the seasons is an odd one to begin with, and in most cases, starting and ending them at solstices and equinoxes is contrary to common usage. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, autumn is “reckoned astronomically from the descending equinox to the winter solstice,” but “popularly, it comprises, in Great Britain, August, September, and October [Samuel Johnson]; in North America, September, October, and November (Webster); and in France ‘from the end of August to the first fortnight of November’ (Littré).” That’s why in Britain the summer solstice was considered “midsummer night,” not the start of summer.

What all this means is that fall has indeed just started—if you want. And if you think fall started when the kids went back to school, or that it won’t start until the leaves start dropping, that’s equally correct. Officials have the authority to decide when Veterans’ Day or Thanksgiving is, but with something as ancient and fundamental as the seasons, their choice is no better than anyone else’s. That’s the American way, after all.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.