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Archive for November, 2007

This is a condition I have discovered myself (which I refuse to give an acronym for obvious reasons) where expats from Ireland living in North America (or it could just be confined to little ol’ me living in Seattle) spend the best part of the year asking the questions such as, Is it Spring yet? When do we start Summer? When is Autumn (oops, I mean Fall)? When is Winter coming? Where’s my Winter? I need my Winter!!! My Celtic brain is just not in sync with the seasons here in the US. (Which could help explain why I cook big pots of hot Dublin stew when the temperature is in the 80s!)

To clarify from the outset my brain recognizes the seasons as follows:

Spring: February, March, April
Summer: May, June, July
Autumn: August, September, October
Winter: November, December, January

It seems the US recognizes the start of the seasons more than a month after each of the Irish seasons begins and, after almost 8 years in the US, I have been consistently confused about when the seasons change here. I seem to spend the entire year scratching my head (which becomes practically hairless in frustration by the end of another year) trying to figure out how I can live in an English speaking culture and continue to feel like an alien from another planet a great deal of the time. So I’ve finally decided to do some research.

It turns out most of the Northern Hemisphere reckons the seasons in one of two ways:

1. Meteorologically, i.e. by temperature, with summer being the hottest quarter of the year, and winter the coldest quarter of the year.

Thus Spring begins March 1st, Summer begins June 1st, Autumn begins September 1st an Winter begins December 1st.

2. Astronomically, i.e. the seasons begin at the solstices and the equinoxes.

Therefore Spring begins around March 21st, Summer  around June 21st, Autumn around September 22nd and Winter begins around December 21st.

America falls into the latter category, validating my perception that the seasons here begin more than a month after each of the Irish seasons. And as a lover of Winter can I just point out that waiting until December 21st is just way too long for the best season of the year!

So how are the Irish seasons determined?

As I have long suspected, language is part of the issue in as much as it serves to remind me that my heritage is deeply rooted in a culture where English is not the native language. The answer lies in our pre-Christian Celtic pagan origins, where our seasons were determined around the solstices and equinoxes, so they become the midpoint of the season (and not the start as in the US). The Celtic influence can be seen particularly in the language of our Irish calendar.

I seem to have intuitively hit on this influence in our language because whenever I become confused about the seasons I find myself reciting the months of the year in Irish and grouping the months into their seasons. I like to get my head straight by starting with Autumn (Fomhair, pronounced foh-ir, meaning harvest time) which in Ireland comprises August, September and October. In the Irish language these months are Lúnasa (loo-nah-sah), Meán Fomhair (mahn foh-ir) and Deireadh Fomhair (djeh-reh foh-ir). The first was named after a pagan Celtic festival (Lughnasadh) that marked the beginning of the harvest season, the second means the middle of autumn and last means the end of autumn.

After that the rest of the seasons fall back into place with winter starting in November (the Celtic festival of Samhain), Spring starting in February (with the Celtic festival of Imbolc) and Summer starting in May (with the Celtic festival of Bealtaine). When I do this regrouping I derive a momentary sense of reassurance that order has been restored to my seasonal world and for a moment my brain relaxes. Then of course I remember I’m not in Ireland any longer and have to engage in the mental gymnastics of navigating the seasons in my daily life.

However, conducting a little research into the seasons has helped me feel a little less alien and has also increased my feeling of connection with Asia. (I lived in Japan for a while and have a great deal of respect for, and sense of connection with, the culture). Apparently East Asian countries such as Japan, China, Korea and Vietnam also determine the seasons in a manner similar to Ireland.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for this Seasonal Temporal Disorder that I feel at times, try wrapping your brain around wikipedia’s description of why Ireland and East Asia reckon the seasons around the solstices and equinoxes, instead of using them as the start. It involves words like insolation and cross-quarter days and I strongly advise against going down this road…because there be dragons!

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