On Times and Seasons

Have you ever felt that the world makes no sense? I often do. Even the change of the seasons seems to follow no particular rhyme or reason these days. In the last few years, I’ve found myself wondering why it always seemed so warm in February when Spring doesn’t officially begin until 21st March (at least as far as the calendar is concerned). Or, for that matter, why the leaves start dropping off the trees in August, why November is so cold and why I get my worst sunburn in May. Then one day a lecturer in Old English told me that the Celts considered February a Spring month, and the penny dropped.

Here comes the history lesson. The calendar we and most of the Western world use is based on the ancient Roman calendar, with a few days added to pad out the year. This is as good a calendar as any in most respects, especially when you live in the Mediterranean climate. The problem comes with British weather, and probably Northern European weather in general. Summer, according to the Gregorian Calendar, begins on the Summer Solstice: i.e. the longest day of the year. Yet we call that day Midsummer. When you consider that the hot weather sets in a week or two into May, suddenly it makes sense that a solstice three weeks into June is the midpoint of the season rather than the beginning. And if you extrapolate from that, making the arbitrary season starts marked on the calendar the midpoints instead, you get Spring beginning in February, Winter beginning in November and Autumn beginning in August.

And it’s no coincidence that these dates coincide with pagan festivals such as Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. Furthermore, some flammable bonfire night traditions have little to do with Guy Fawkes and friends – they are pagan Winter rituals given a secular context as the centuries passed.

Thinking in these terms has actually helped my personal world make a little more sense this year. We had that last gasp of snow at the beginning of February before Spring kicked in with weak sunshine and daffodils, May was probably the most consistent patch of Summer sun we had, August is when the insects reach the reproductive part of their year and the corn harvest begins, and November’s grey and dismal nature falls sensibly into Winter where it belongs. I hate Autumn less as a season now that more of it is taken up with colourful trees and less of it with icy rain.

Does it matter? I suppose it doesn’t and that this is just a rant from a history buff with too much time on his hands. Most of us being urbanites in this day and age, we’re very used to ignoring things like stars and the weather, and we’ll happily accept being told what the season is by an arbitrary calendar. Personally, I enjoy being out in the garden too much to have my Autumn spoiled by a month like November…

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~ by Scary Rob on 7 September, 2009.

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