The time to “fall back,” or set our clocks back one hour in a return to standard time, is once again nigh. As such, the biannual kvetch fest that always surrounds the twice-a-year shift is also upon us. Alas, this humble piece will not be the last and is likely not the first one you’ve read on the subject. Brace yourself: I’m a fan of the time changes.
I know, I know. I’m in the minority on this one. (In an informal poll of my Texas Monthly colleagues, the majority voted for the option labeled “I hate the time change and wish it never happened.” Wider-reaching surveys echo these findings.) Though Daylight Saving Time was instituted in the year of my birth, 1966, I can’t say that I actually recall folks making a stink about it back then, though I’m certain they did, as evidence of early stink making is easy to find. Even before DST went into effect, a state representative from Beaumont, William Smith, tried to scotch the whole thing, though his effort ultimately failed.
The origins of DST are sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who opined on the matter in a satirical 1784 essay titled “An Economical Project.” The idea has also been credited to George Hudson, a New Zealand postal worker and part-time entomologist who wanted the extra hour of daylight for bug hunting and went public with his proposal in 1895. But it was actually our own Lyndon B. Johnson, who as president in that eventful year of 1966, signed into law the Uniform Time Act, establishing the option for states to observe Daylight Saving Time for the period spanning the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. (The Energy Policy Act of 2005, approved by yet another Texas president, George W. Bush, moved the start date of DST to the second Sunday in March and changed the end date to the first Sunday in November.) Currently, the only places to have opted out of DST are Arizona (minus the Navajo Nation), Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Somewhat surprisingly, the United States has only observed a standardized keeping of time for 140 years—since November 18, 1883, to be precise. Before that synchronization, which was a boon to the keeping of rail-travel departure and arrival times, there were more than a hundred different local times being kept across the country. Prior to the implementation of DST in the 1960s, legislation had been passed during both world wars allowing for an additional hour of daylight as way to reduce energy consumption. President Franklin Roosevelt referred to the scheme as “War Time.”
After all this time, some people love it, some hate it, and most, no matter the particular camp in which they stand, just tolerate it. But recent legislative efforts to do away with DST—or keep DST year-round—have gained some traction. Most recently, in the latest regular Texas legislative session, state representative Will Metcalf, a Republican from Conroe, introduced a bill that proposed keeping year-round DST. The measure overwhelmingly passed the House in a bipartisan vote of 138–5 but stalled in the Senate. Nothing would have come of it without federal approval, anyway. While states are granted the ability to opt out of DST, they are not currently allowed to opt in to year-round DST.
Detractors, many the parents of young children, cite fatigue-inducing problems with circadian rhythms that come with the twice-yearly changes. And the science seems to be on their side. Both the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine endorse eliminating DST and staying on standard time year-round. Other critics of tinkering with the clocks raise religious considerations, such as difficulty with the management of prayer times and ritual fasting. And then there are the economic concerns. Prime-time television broadcasts can suffer with a later sunset, for example, as can the movie theater business. The energy-saving argument has not really been proven.
For my part, I have no problem with Daylight Saving Time and the associated time changes between it and standard time. In fact, I love it. Or, at least, I really like it.
First, perhaps due to my chosen profession and the constant deadlines that come with it, the burning of the midnight oil is sometimes—okay, oftentimes—called for, and I’ve learned to embrace my circadian dysrhythmia. Time barely has meaning to me. Second, I’m not a morning person, which holds true whether dawn happens to crack at 6:45 or 7:45. I don’t really care whether it’s light or dark out; it’s morning time and I need a cup of coffee. Third, I’m simply accustomed to the winter days, such as they are, being short and dark, and the spring and summer days being long and light. That’s just how it is here in Texas. And I like it that way.
But mostly, what I like is the anticipation of the time changes themselves. Springing forward brings with it the promise of longer days, evening lawn mowing, and grilling dinner amid a beautiful sunset—and, as a golfer, afternoon tee times or even a postprandial nine holes at a nearby municipal course.
Likewise, I find “falling back” has its benefits too. The shorter and darker and cooler days of fall and winter conjure a welcome and seasonally appropriate hibernatory vibe. The air is tinged with the scent of burning leaves or a lit fireplace or, maybe, the aroma of wafting chili spices. There are headlights on the way home from work, early dinnertimes, and, except for that looming deadline, earlier bedtimes. Again, I don’t really care about the mornings. The early birds can have the mornings.
Another thing I think I like about the time changes is that they serve as stand-ins for prominent seasonal markers, which we don’t really have here in Texas. In lieu of admiring a sudden burst of autumnal colors on the changing leaves of fall foliage, we “fall back.” And in springtime, though we do have spectacular wildflowers, we are also alerted to spring’s arrival by a renewing “spring forward.”
Will the time ever come when we stop springing forward every spring and falling back every fall? I kind of hope not, though it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it did.
I reached out to representative Metcalf, the gentleman who passed the legislation aiming to impose permanent DST, for an update, and he explained that while his bill did pass the Texas House, it was never passed by the Senate and therefore did not make it to the desk of the governor, who, by the way, expressed his support for the legislation. (“I STRONGLY support this,” he wrote in a social media post, with all-caps enthusiasm.)
Metcalf further explained that while the United States Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act this year, legislation that would make Daylight Saving Time permanent for all states that currently observe it, the measure failed in the House of Representatives. “Until the Sunshine Protection Act passes both chambers of Congress and is signed by the president, I look forward to working here at the state level to pass this legislation in Texas,” Metcalf said. “It is far past time Texas takes a stand against the darkness of standard time and put an end to the outdated practice of changing our clocks twice a year.”
In the meantime, don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour. Fall is back.