Season Cycle Moving Round and Round

Yesterday was the vernal equinox, and hence the official start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, at least according to a lot of calendars. Mind you, since temperatures have been fluctuating wildly in these parts as of late, it’s hard to tell. Climate change ruins everything. But anyway, as a kid I was very literal-minded (I still am, I guess, but I at least hope I’m less obnoxious about it), and would sometimes get annoyed at people referring to, say, early June as being part of summer. And as for the groundhog seeing his shadow, well, how could there NOT be six more weeks of winter between the beginning of February and the equinox? Really, though, what we often think of as the official seasons is a cultural construct, and it’s not really as clear cut as all that. Obviously this system doesn’t apply at all in the tropics, and warmer climates often simply have rainy and dry seasons rather than the four we observe. Even in temperate climates, though, some cultures tended to observe the solstices and equinoxes as falling in the MIDDLE of their seasons, which is why Midsummer’s Day is right around the summer solstice. Actually, I think it’s usually observed on 24 June, which would have typically been the solstice on the old Julian calendar, just as Christmas would have been the winter solstice. I get the impression that this is typically how it was done in Britain, with summer beginning with May Day/Beltane and winter with Samhain. I’ve never actually been to the United Kingdom, but from what I hear they don’t actually have a sunny season at all. In some ways this system makes more sense, because if summer is supposed to be the hot season, why does it START with what’s theoretically the hottest day of the year? A lot of American businesses consider summer to run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. At least in recent years, it feels like spring and fall have been getting shorter and shorter. I know all the seasons are supposed to be of equal length, but when are these mystical six months when it isn’t either really hot or really cold? Seems like we get maybe two months of that. Then again, that could just be my perception, and I’m a grouch.

It appears that the English name of spring, which refers to plants springing up from the ground, was first used around the late fourteenth century. Before that, it was called Lent, from a Germanic root indicating the lengthening of days. So why does Lent now refer to a specific period of the liturgical calendar? Apparently that’s unique to English, with the Latin and Greek words for the fasting season simply meaning “fortieth.” The Latin ver for spring is preserved in the name of the vernal equinox.

This entry was posted in Climate, Global Warming, Holidays, Science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Season Cycle Moving Round and Round

  1. Pingback: ‘Winter Cycle’ – Raising funds for the UK Floods until 31st March 2014 | Liz Shewan Art Gallery Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s