In the deep mid-winter
When do the seasons begin and end?
There seem to be various answers, depending on who you ask, and Aquila ka Hecate recently discussed this question on her blog, here. I wanted to comment on it, but the new Blogger commenting system, which seems to be broken, would not allow me to do so, so I’ll quote the post in full and comment here.
A colleague at my (new! 3 months only!) place of work mentioned this week that there were only 12 weeks until Spring.
Being the new girl in the district, I hesitated to make a ‘thing’ of it – although I was tempted. You see, it’s one of my triggers : how we mark the seasons of the year. It irritates me that many people can’t see how beautifully simple it is.
We have 52 weeks in a solar year, with 4 seasons. That’s 13 weeks per season When each season starts appears to vary from person to person. Here in the southern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is celebrated on or around June 21st. Now here comes the nub of the whole “season” matter: If you call this day “MidWinter”, you have just fixed a point around which you will have to configure all the other seasons.
I have no idea what’s so hard to understand about “mid” and “Winter” coming together in one word. It’s the mid-point of Winter, right? So in another 6 and a half weeks it will be the end of Winter, right? That’s around the first week in August, and I get to call it Imbolc.
Unfortunately for me, most Seffricans believe that Spring starts either at the beginning of September, or else on the Vernal Equinox, around 21st September. But how can that be? Unless you are counting Winter as starting either at the beginning of June or at the Solstice…which we’ve agreed to keep calling Mid-Winter, OK?
“Mid” does not mean “start”. It means the bloody middle, people. So, figuring from this fairly rock solid premise (and assuming 4 seasons of roughly equal length, unlike the Celts, who really only had Summer and Winter), the Vernal Equinox would be the middle of Spring, the Summer Solstice the middle of Summer (or MidSummer!) and the Autumnal Equinox on around March 21st would be the mid-point of Autumn. That leaves 4 points as ending/starting days for each of the seasons.
And as luck would have it, many Pagans already celebrate on these days – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnassad and Samhain. The start of each season. So pardon me while I revere the very depth of Winter – when the apparent Sun reaches its lowest point in the heavens as seen from Earth – as MidWinter. That’s in just one week from today.
And Imbolc, the start of Spring, a scant 6.5 weeks later, in the first week of August. Makes frighteningly proper sense to me. More sense-making goodiness here.
My comment, if I had been allowed to make it, is this:
As a child, and until about the age of 15, I thought of the seasons in exactly the way that Aquila ka Hecate describes. Winter was May, June and July. It made logical sense for exactly the reason that Midwinter was just after the middle of June. To be strictly accurate, one should say that winter lasted from 7 May to 6 August, but the May-July reckoning was close enough.
Then when I was about 15 we had a geography lesson at school in which spring was defined as the period whe n the days were longer than the nights and getting longer, while winter was when the days were shorter than the nights and and gretting longer. So winter began in its middle.
So there was the scientific meaning of winter, and the popular meaning of winter, which didn’t quite coincide.
But there are lots of things where the scientific meaning of something and the popular meaning don’t coincide.
I’m not sure where that started, because the media must have got it from somewhere. But I accepted that because in the Orthodox Church the church year begins on 1 September, and it seemed quite appropriate that it should be on the first day of spring (though that doesn’t apply in the northern hemisphere). It is linked to the idea of the creation of the world, though I’m surprised that in the northern hemisphere they didn’t pick on February or March for that rather than September, which is the northern Autumn.
In recent years there has also been a tendency for Orthodox Christians to observe the first few days of September as days to pray about and be concerned for the environment, which also seems appropriate for the beginning of Spring.
But if we are going to regard the First of September as the first day of Spring, then perhaps we should think of mid-winter as occurring on 15 July. That’s probably when it’s coldest, anyway.
But going back to my childhood, when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, June and July were the cold months, when we had chapped hands and legs at school. August was the windy month, the kite-flying season, and we could expect the wind to blow up the first rains.
I used to sit in class looking out of the window and watch the cumulus clouds sailing from north-west to south-east, and grow taller as they moved. I used to daydream about jumping around and sliding down the slopes of the clouds. The teachers thought that that was a Bad Thing, and mentioned it in school reports as Day-Dreaming in Class (DDIC). Nowadays they call it ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and they use drugs to try to suppress it.
Anyway, the clouds would build up on the south-eastern horizon and then come back, towering cumulo-nimbus clouds, and at 4 pm they would drop their load, as rain or hail, with thunder and lightning. From August onwards you could almost set your watch by it, and it was called the civil service rain, because it always seemed to fall when civil servants were leaving work at 4 pm, and stopped by 4:30.
Climate change has changed all that, of course. Now they say “Rain in September, drought in December” and everyone looks for the first rains to begin in October. So perhaps the popular seasons are moving closer to the scientific ones.