Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Day of the Season - NOT!

Four times a year I watch my daughter get hopping mad about this. She thinks it should be 'taught properly in school' but I figure, if the professional meteorologists can't get it right, the school system definitely won't.

I'm talking about the solstices and the equinoxes. I'm talking about how the Professional Weatherpersons announce, four times a year, that it's The First Day of the Season. It bloody well is not. And yes, I'll tell you why.
First, did it ever occur to you to ask why, if Winter Solstice is the first day of winter, the other common name for the occasion is Midwinter? How about Summer Solstice and Midsummer? There's a reason that calling something 'Mid-Season' collides directly with the concept of its being the first day of the season.

This big wad of confusion stems largely from the fact that over the course of the centuries, the four other seasonal festivals, the ones that fit in between the solstices and equinoxes, have been lost. Did you know there are four other seasonal festivals? If you're pagan, you probably did, but they've fallen off the Official Western Calendar over time because the astronomical settings they mark aren't as obvious as the four points in the solar cycle. In other words, the four in-between dates (pagan holy days, all) could be squelched but the solstices and equinoxes had to be given at least lip service.

So what are these elusive, missing calendar bits? They're called the Cross-Quarters Festivals and they fit into the calendar like this:

Samhain (October 31-November 2, Halloween and/or All Saints and All Souls Days)
Winter Solstice
Imbolc (if you're Catholic, it's Lady Day, February 2)
Spring Equinox
Beltaine (May Day - maypoles and all that jazz)
Summer Solstice
Lammas (August 1, First Harvest or Harvest Home)
Autumn Equinox
In the old European calendar, the Cross-Quarters Festivals were the beginning/ending days of the season. Samhain is the first day of Winter, Imbolc the first day of Spring, Beltaine the first day of Summer and Lammas the first day of Autumn. The solstices and equinoxes were the high points of the seasons. Yes, I said high points, as in Midsummer and Midwinter. Get it? Personally, I think it's pretty nifty.

Why have the Cross-Quarters dates disappeared from our calendars? Simple. They're pagan holy days and the Christian Church, in its many manifestations, prefers that they disappear. The Powers That Be spent centuries stamping out the pagan seasonal celebrations and erasing them from the calendar. As I noted before, the Cross-Quarters were easier to expunge than the solar quarters. If you're Catholic, you'll find the dates still on the calendar as various holy days, but they certainly aren't given the precedence they were in ancient times.

So there, I've done the teaching that my daughter wanted. I hope I've enlightened you a little. Now, if you'd just send an e-mail to the nice folks at The Weather Channel, maybe we can get them to announce it correctly next time.