Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Cross-quarter

Today is Groundhog Day, or Candlemas.

In Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil will or will not see his shadow when he emerges from his burrow. If he does, Pennsylvanians are in for six more weeks of winter. If it doesn't, they can put away the snow shovels. From here, on this tropical isle, it looks like the Northeast of the U.S. is getting battered by yet another snowstorm.

Candlemas is a cross-quarter day, halfway between the solstice and the equinox (approximately), known in the ancient Celtic calendar as Imbolc. In the Christian calendar, it celebrates the "purification" of the Blessed Virgin after giving birth, and the presentation of the Christ child in the temple. For me it means another gorgeous sunrise and the halfway mark of my sojourn on the island.

Like the pagans of yore, my life is keyed to the Sun. My transitions from place to place are synchronized with the Sun's peregrinations, escaping the need for artificial heat in winter and artificial AC in the summer. I chase the Sun south in the winter, and run away north in the summer.

The Christian calendar, like the calendars of other religions, approximates the ancient solar feasts, even though few people notice anymore what the Sun is actually doing in the sky. Christmas and Easter prominently recall a solstice and equinox. We celebrate the second cross-quarter day as May Day. ("Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today…") The third cross-quarter day, which falls on or about August 7th, was remembered in the Christian calendar as Lammas, or "loaf-mass," a harvest feast, but it has vanished from our attention (as have harvests). The fourth cross-quarter day is prominently with us as Halloween and All Saints.

I believe I have mentioned here before that In the Catholic liturgical calendar the parts of the year between the day after the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 and the day before Ash Wednesday, and between the day after Pentecost and the day before Advent, rather more than half the year altogether, are known as Ordinary Time. The sunrise this morning was anything but ordinary. Each morning I watch as the rising solar disk edges its way northward along the low ridge of Stocking Island, ten miles away to the southeast, presided over by blazing Venus and red Antares. I have replaced the liturgical calendar with Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar. In the latter, there is no such thing as "ordinary" time. Every day offers some sort of celestial grace.