One thing that’s always weird to people when they first learn about the liturgical calendar is that it seems off-balance. During the spring and summer, there’s barely anything at all, the faintly diminutive “Ordinary Time”. Then fall, bam, and you’re busy till Easter.
I have been told–apocrypha, you cry–that this reflects the essence of historicaal agricultural life. During the spring and summer, you are busy sowing and tending and breeding and milking1. Fall comes with its slaughter and goods to put away, and then… Less for our farmers to do in winter. Hunker down. Survive. This then is when community and ritual really have their power.
Industrial, post-industrial life crushes this. We keep lights in our chickens’ coops so that they will lay like summer in winter, and we are ourselves judged by our summers’ eggs2.
I don’t know if in the Hebrew it has this quality, but in the relevant3 Latin4 text of Ecclesiastes 3 there is a rhythmic monotony to an explanation of variance in life. Tempus occidendi, et tempus sanandi; tempus destruendi, et tempus ædificandi. Tempus flendi, et tempus ridendi; tempus plangendi, et tempus saltandi. Tempus singular-nominative-future-passive participle, tempus singular-nominative-future-passive participle. A time for this, a time for that. You get up, you go to work, you come home, you go to sleep, you die.
I kind of think Gardner got one thing right.
The trouble with the neat divisions of the purely solar calendar, then, is when a syncretically minded sort tries to examine how the Christian liturgical year fits on top, it doesn’t really. Certainly you might map the spring equinox onto the feast of the Annunciation, Beltane onto the crowning of Mary – but a map of the Christian liturgical year that doesn’t have the slippery lunisolar timing of Lent and Easter… well, it’s not really a map of the liturgical year anymore.
It’s a feature of an urban and post-industrial society to think that noticing and caring about natural cycles is an optional extra, or some esoteric magical secret - in fact, it’s a modern luxury to be able to ignore them. We have light available to us, every hour of the day, at the flick of a switch, and so some people fiercely believe that only super-spiritual cosmos-attuned pagans could ever have thought to care about full moons and solstices. Go back even a hundred years and that’s nonsense, of course; there was a time (and there are still many places) where solar and lunar cycles were unavoidably important, where moonlit nights were the only time it was feasible to go out in the evening and the lengthening or shortening of the days made a huge difference to the routines of daily life. Of course people knew when Midsummer was, and found ways to celebrate it - it’s not exactly a mystery! It’s a failure of imagination not to realise that this is one of the ways in which the past (even the quite recent past) was very different to the present, and it’s a very modern kind of arrogance to think that it takes some special deep insight to notice or care how the cycle of the year works.
See, this much cannot be apocryphal, because I remember baby goats’ season; the imminent leaves on the alders were acid green. ↩
If there were a world where caffeine didn’t exist, and you explained its role in contemporary life to someone there, wouldn’t they be horrified? ↩
Laid claim to by those who lay claim to me. ↩
Canonical translations are something else, that’s for sure. Techies degrade the word “canonical” when they use it to mean something quotidian. Witness the Septuagint! Witness St. Jerome! The premodern death of the author paired with an immutable soul of a text… ↩