So, what’s in a name anyway? The question was recently posed, “What’s the deal with ‘Midwinter Day’ if it’s actually the first day of winter?” Not so surprisingly (for those who know my penchant for ‘information’) I had already thought of this and had done some research about mid-winter and mid-summer. So here goes…
Way back when (at least a few lifetimes ago), seasons were recognized for their form and function, rather than by government edict or random declaration of the start of the cold or hot season. For many in the European regions, there were eight segments of the year, primarily based on the agricultural cycles of planting and harvesting (similarly, in China, there were 24 segments that followed agriculture and thus called the “farmers calendar”). These segments are as follows:
Imbolc (February 1) – end winter/early spring, the first lambings
Ostara (Spring Equinox) – equal night – mid spring, begin sowing
Beltane (May Day) – end spring/early summer – herds to pasture
Summer Solstice (end of June) – midsummer
Lammas (August 2) – first harvest (early fall)
Mabon (Autumn Equinox) – 2nd harvest
Samhain (October 31) – last harvest/early winter
Winter Solstice (end of Dec) – mid winter
So, while most of the meteorologists and climatologists in the Northern Hemisphere dictate that the coldest months are Dec/Jan/Feb and thus are Winter months, and the warmest months are Jun/Jul/Aug and thus are Summer months, these dates do not match up with the agricultural cycle of old which mark the seasons based on daylight/darkness hours (which was very important to those without electric lights), planting cycles, and animal husbandry cycles. If you look at it this way, the months with the most darkness hours would be Nov/Dec/Jan and the most daylight hours May/Jun/July (Midwinter on the December solstice – longest night and Midsummer on the June solstice – longest day). Not to mention, depending on where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, those coldest months vary. And in some places, the tempereatures change very little and season are more of the wet/dry variety rather than hot/cold.
As a final note, in all my research, I have yet to find any “official” declaration of the “official” start of any given season though I have found it to be primarily a North American concept. If you happen to come across this bit of information, I’d be happy to hear about it!
So, celebrate the seasons regardless of what you wish to call them and when you want them to occur. If it’s cold wear a coat, if it’s sunny wear a hat, but mostly remember, if the cows lie down, get inside before the storm arrives.