Given that the Earth is a spinning ball, it’s difficult to say when the year begins. For Ancient Egypt and Babylon, it began at the autumn equinox, while for the Greeks it began at the winter solstice. The Romans followed the Greeks but they wanted to start the year with a festival of the new moon. In the year when Julius Caesar changed the calender, that fell on January 1st.
In the Middle Ages, however, the year began on March 25th, the date of the Annunciation. It was always known as ‘Lady Day’.
The date was changed back to January 1st in 1752 (in the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ when our disconnect with natural rhythms and cycles began).
There were four major days in the year, called the ‘Quarter Days’: Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas, traditionally associated with the hiring of servants and the collection of rents. If you ever wondered why the British tax year ends on April 5th, it relates to Lady Day. These days are roughly three months apart and close to the solstices and equinoxes.
Today we should be paying our annual rents on the allotments, but it’s been deferred to the AGM which is next week. Our last get together was in early February. When I suggested a Candlemas theme, it was descried as being ‘too religious’, so I will not breathe a word at the AGM of the Lady Day Rents. For in this city of scientists, a new puritanism is arising and, to be considered intelligent if not reasonable, I must divest myself of superstition and religion. The Age of Enlightenment has not yet finished. Some call it the Age of Endarkenment.
I am reading and thoroughly enjoying a very heretical tract called ‘Harmony’ by HRH The Prince of Wales. I shall review it shortly and then submit myself for public burning at the Martyr’s Memorial which, fittingly, is opposite my bus stop in the city centre. So I can go to my martyrdom on the No 6 rather than in a tumbrel.
I jest (I hope) but sometimes the atmosphere around scientists begins to smell like a chemistry lab, all clinical and acidy. I think life without a past, without rhythms and cycles, without sacred beauty and the harmony of the spheres, without imagination, must be a very cold, acerbic life.
As historical novelists, we not only have to acquire knowledge of the past, we have to turn off knowledge of the present and divest ourselves of scientific thinking, which is why I have this running theme of The Old Year. Hope it’s useful.