Quarters & Crosses of an Ancient Calendar
In the height (and heat) of summer, I begin to crave the shift in seasons; trading blistering days for crisp air and cool evenings. Midsummer has passed, and with it the knowledge that each day is getting shorter than the one before it, however we are in the dog days of summer and the heat is nearly unbearable. However, the harvest season is nearly here.
Did you know that the "dog days" of summer are related to the constellations in the sky? On July 20th the star Sirius, the dog star, lines up with the sun. The days between July 3rd to August 11th are considered the dog days as the sun and one of the other brightest stars share the same space in the sky. The ancient Romans believed that the extra bright star next to the sun meant extra heat. However, more modern discoveries show that it is the tilt of the earth that leaves the Northern Hemisphere scorching through the "dog days".
The ancients were very aware of the sun, stars, and shifts in the earth's movements. Their lives and agrarian livelihoods were highly dependent upon their ability to understand the land, sun, and skies. As such, they created a calendar of sorts to mark each season with action and celebration. Eventually, with the rise of Christendom, these festival days also took on religious meaning.
Nowadays, with our air conditioning and calendar apps, we have lost a bit of our communion with nature. It is my hope that sharing the knowledge of an ancient calendar will allow us to find the joy and celebration in the changing of seasons. We have shared some of these marked days before, but we wanted to give you the larger framework so you can understand how these quarter days and cross-quarter days were and are celebrated throughout the year.
These days correlate with solstice and equinox days. The solar calendar and the Gregorian calendar don't line up. While astronomically speaking, the solstice/equinox days fall on the 20th or 21st of their respective months, they have been historically celebrated around these days but not exactly on them.
March 25th Lady Day (Spring Equinox): This marks the beginning of spring. Traditionally this was the day when farm laborers were hired to prepare for the upcoming planting season. Liturgically, this was a celebration the annunciation to the virgin Mary.
June 24th Midsummer (Summer Solstice): While this astronomically speaking the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, for many of the laborers this was midway point between planting (May Day) and harvesting (Lammas Day). To celebrate the growth and to protect the crops from mischief, there were celebrations to keep the evil spirits at bay. Later this was a celebration of John the Baptist's birthday, six months before Christ was born. Read more about Midsummer and it traditions in our journal article here.
September 29th Michelmas (Autumn Equinox): The autumn equinox is the waning of the harvest season. The harvest moon is typically the full moon nearest to the equinox. The moon appears full for nearly three days, rises before the sun sets, and appears larger than normal. During this time livestock are brought back from their summer pastures. Most of the fruits and grains have been brought in at this point and are being store for winter, and financial accounts are settled after the harvest. Religiously speaking, this was the celebration of the archangel Michael banishing Lucifer from heaven. We will be sharing more about Michelmas in the coming weeks.
December 25th Christmas (Winter Solstice): The shortest day of the year calls for candles and warm family gatherings. Most farm laborer's were paid their final wages of the year, to help them through the months before planting. The final quarter day of the year is one to enjoy with family. Christmastide is a season of celebration surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. Read more about Christmastide and the real twelve days of Christmas in our journal here.
These cross quarter days are festivals that are celebrated halfway between each of the quarter days. The Celts had particularly strong traditional celebrations with each of these days, as they attempted to protect themselves and their lifestyle faeries and demons. Christian traditions came later
February 2nd Candlemas (Imbolc & Brigantia):
Halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, the winter begins to feel long. Some rely on the way the candle flame flickers, others rely on a groundhog and his shadow, but it is certainly the point when we all wonder if spring will ever come. To the Celts, this day was known as Imbolc, a sign that the ewe's milk was coming in and that the lambing season would soon commence. The Celts raised praises and lit candles to the goddess Brigid in hopes for a fruitful and helpful lambing season. It was also a day to recognize when the Christ-child was presented in the Temple after his birth. Read more about Candlemas here.
May 1st May Day (Beltane): May Day is one of the oldest celebrations of spring, originally celebrated as Floralia, a festival to celebrate Flora, goddess of flowers and all things that grow. For the Gaelic this festival was known as Beltane in which livestock was blessed. The cattle were led to jump over blazing fires to make sure their milk could not be spoiled by the faerie kin. It is also the first day that farmer's would say it is safe to plant, no longer worried about a late frost killing the seedlings. More May Day traditions here.
August 1st Lammas Day (Lughnasadh): This day marks the beginning of the traditional harvest season. It is a celebration of the start (or end, depending on where you live) of the grain harvest, some of the earliest crops ready to harvest. Wheat and corn are ripe and ready. Hay is cut and left drying in bales over the fields. The folk traditions of yore celebrated this day with baking new loafs of bread from the freshly harvested wheat, dancing, feasting, and bale-jumping sport. Read more about the origins and traditions of Lammas Day in our next journal post.
November 1st All Saint's Day (Samhain): This marks the end of the harvest season, halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. The late crops such as pumpkins, rutabaga, potatoes, turnips and others are finally pulled from the ground and stored away. This is also when livestock are brought in from their summer pastures and slaughtered. Death opens a portal between the mortal and spirit realms. Halloween is when the demons come out, but must be banished before All Saint's Day. We will share more about these traditions in the coming months!
We hope that you have enjoyed reading more about these traditional days of festivities and celebration. We are eager to continue sharing about these traditions and hope that some of them find their way into your families and homes. Which ones are you most excited to add into your home?