The history of seasons isn’t always what we think it is. Using the Australian summer as a baseline, when I was a child the Christmas cards all had snow on them. The pavement melted with heat and yet we were expected to believe that snow was going to fall.
During the last forty years, Australia has finally come to expect that summer falls when summer falls, and that Christmas and New Year are warm. An interesting effect of this is that some people have asked “How were the seasons described in Australia prior to European settlement?” In my region, there were six seasons and those six seasons changed when certain plants bloomed, or when rivers filled, or when animals and insects were on the move.
Because the seasons were described by set events rather than by fixed dates, they're a lot more precise than the European seasons translated to Australia. Some of our more recent popular beliefs work with the six season description, too. For instance, in Canberra, we say that heaters go on every year on ANZAC Day (25 April). Winter doesn’t begin until June: the imported seasons don’t match the calendar, so local customs act as a corrective.
Jump back to England in the Middle Ages and this kind of discrepancy abounds. Chaucer describes April showers, but one of the key moments in the year isn’t in April, but on 25 March. The key dates for new year, tax, in fact, for most things were linked to key religious moments in the Christian calendar. One has to look at records of weather to find when the seasons changed, and one of the records of weather patterns is in literature.
I should sit down and look at the studies of weather patterns for a region, and compare the literary and other documentation that show how people saw seasons, and compare them with that Christian calendar and the way it shaped peoples’ lives. Then I can see just what the differences are between the way I live the seasons and how they are described for my own life and compare that to the Middle Ages.
I don’t have time for this, unfortunately. My research is in quite different fields right now, and I don’t even have the excuse that it will help my next novel. I suspect that this post is my reminder to myself that, one day, when I have time, I want to do this. It’d take a week, for I already have the resources and… I really want to know. What gaps were there between the documented seasons and the way people lived in the seasons in, say, thirteenth century England?
This post was brought to you by a long summer’s night in the middle (of course) of a heat wave. January is not a cold month where I live.
Very much enjoyed this post, Gillian. I share your fascination with seasons.
P.S. Sending this comment from a crisp and frosty morning in East Sussex!
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