Kage Baker always reverently observed the Quarter Days, the 4 great horological linchpins of the astronomical year. Two Solstices, two Equinoxes – tidy and convenient.
Everybody knows about these; all calendars show them, evening newscasters announce their coming to the ritually uncommitted; a lot of householders use the dates to remember to change their faucet filters and turn the compost. Also, every 3 months there’s a nice excuse for a special dinner and a thematic cocktail. (Kage was a party girl at heart.)
If you want things divided still further, add in the Cross-Quarter Days, the Lesser Arcana of the calendar. There’s an appropriate observance about midway between every Solstice and its trailing Equinox, at least in the varying mythoi of Europe. These days, they’re more likely to have parties associated with them than the 4 Big Ones. Some have attached celebrations that most people are aware of; others have sunk below the precessional horizon. But Kage loved ’em all.
Between Winter and Spring, there’s February 2: Imbolc, also known as Candlemas, Bridget’s Day, Groundhog Day – depending on if your tastes run to goddesses, light or marmots. Even odds on whether you’ll get a hard frost or a tide of early crocuses, but it’s a nice marker in the holiday dry spell between New Year’s and Easter.
Between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice, you can celebrate May 1st, Beltane: May Day, Calan Mai, Mary’s Day, Walpurgis. This is a folk favourite, even if you have no pagan leanings at all. Bonfires, May poles, yellow flowers, little girls in processions, flower crowns! It’s finally warm enough to stay out at night, and it looks like the fields have unfrozen for another year.
Between Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox, on August 1st, comes Lughnasadh. You’ll notice, Dear Readers, that I use the Celtic names first, and Lughnasadh is one that is mostly celebrated by Celt-esque neo-pagans. It’s the Harvest Festival, First Fruits. The Romans and Greeks celebrated one, so did the Christians – but except for some rural Christian churches with harvest blessings (and the good people of Summerisle in the Orkneys, of course), most people outside of the UK aren’t very aware of this one and do not mark it. Kage did, though. Party girl, remember …
And then comes the most famous one, the one everybody knows and loves – most of the world celebrates it now, even if most of the world is unaware of what it really means. I refer, of course, to Samhain – technically, November 1st, though generally observed on the night of October 31st: but the Celts measured the year in nights, and their holidays ran at night. Whether you call this one Halloween or All Saints or the Devil’s birthday (as some benighted Christians insist); whether it’s time to picnic on Grandmother’s grave, or run around dressed as a superhero demanding candy, it’s the last nighttime party of the year until the Winter Solstice.
Kage made a feast for our beloved dead every year, and handed out sweets to the little pilgrims at the door; I marked our doorstep with wine and grain and salt. We toasted the departed and ate a lot of chocolate, amiable observances shared with more and more of the world as time goes on. A nice thing, too.
Today, though, is one of the Big Ones: the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring. The hiccoughs of the celestial clock have arranged it so the actual moment of balance between night and day happens tonight – March 19, at 11:30 PM. Today and tonight, light and darkness are in balance, equally. The world spins in place, tiptoe in Her ellipsis of an orbit, with the Moon twirling in Her wake like the poodle on a skirt.
And it’s Saturday, the faithful coming of which Kage always took as a sign of divine favour. I sent off another story to a new magazine, too. Good way to start the new quarter, I think. It’s still a chilly ways to go before we can all join the dance at Beltane.