Almost every culture in temperate latitudes has the four seasons we learnt as kids; Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Most of us, especially if we grew up in Europe, notice the seasons changing but we rarely assign specific dates to those shifts. We recognize spring is near by the appearance of buds on the willows and the first snowdrops. Summer is heralded by the return of the swallows or perhaps the sound of a lark singing high in a clear blue sky. Autumn is welcomed by the harvest festivals in churches and the red leaves falling from the trees while winter, the season of frost on the grass, ice on car windshields and snow, is welcomed as the harbinger of Christmas and the New Year. In these four seasons there are only two important dates which have been observed from antiquity; one in June when the hours of daylight begin to shorten and the other in December when the cycle reverses and the days get longer as the sun “moves” northward.
All this is mute in the US where everything is measured and defined. Instead of Christmas falling in “the bleak mid-winter ” like the carol suggests, it occurs a few days after the definition of the start of winter on December 21st. June 21st might still be the day with longest hours of daylight but instead of marking the middle of summer it is defined as the first day of summer and the summer season advances with each day having fewer hours of daylight. The arrival of Spring and Autumn are not marked by subtle changes in nature but are defined by the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. There is no room for climate vagaries. The phrase, “spring came early that year”, is meaningless. Sad, but when Spring starts by decree on March 21st, regardless of what the climate suggests and Christmas falls a few days after the start of Winter there is also little room for fantasy or poetry.