Seasons change


My family has four seasonal wreaths for our front door. On Memorial Day weekend, I put up the summer wreath—red, white, and blue, with a patriotic theme. On Labor Day weekend, I put up the autumn wreath—red, orange, and yellow leaves on branches. On or about the First Sunday in Advent, I put up the winter/Christmas wreath—evergreen branches, holly berries, and fake snow. On the second of March I put up the spring wreath—stalks of green grass, pink flowers, and butterflies.

Why the second of March? Because in the song “Camelot” (in the musical of the same name), King Arthur sings to Guinevere about the wonders of his kingdom. Among those wonders is that the weather obeys the royal command. “The winter is forbidden ‘til December and exits March the second on the dot. By orders summer lingers through September in Camelot.”

I have always been drawn to the Arthurian traditions. Whether it’s the Lerner and Lowe musical, or the T.H. White novel on which the musical is based, or Howard Pyle’s children’s stories, or the poems of Tennyson, or the late medieval rendering of Marlowe, or the earliest stories of King Arthur and his knights… it’s all  good. I have Camelot and Excalibur and Monty Python and the Holy Grail in my movie collection, and I recently went to the theater to see The Kid Who Would Be King.

I also enjoy historical research into the roots of the Arthurian stories. There may have been a battlefield commander, a Latinized Celt, named Arthur (or something similar) who fought the invading Saxons after Rome withdrew its legions from Britain. He may have built a round hut in which he met with his forces. The French romances of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot came much later. Traces of pre-Celtic religion and legend may have contributed to the stories in their earliest versions. But every generation, it seems, has added its own contribution to the story of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.

I’m sure that Lerner and Lowe chose the date of March 2 in an arbitrary way, because the date fits the song and not because it means anything more. But the date fits nicely as a near-midpoint between the First Sunday in Advent and Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, in the Salvageable house—as in Camelot—March 2 is officially the first day of spring. J.

The true beginning of spring

The beginning and end of the seasons are matters for some dispute. Makers of almanacs and calendars  proclaim changes of season on the equinoxes and the solstices. The spring equinox this year will take place at 11:55 a.m. Central Daylight-Saving Time. At that moment, the earth will tilt in such a way that the sunlight will strike directly upon the equator. As a result, on that day all parts of the earth will experience twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of nighttime—hence the term “equinox.”

Yet in the United States the social calendar does not reflect the calendar of equinoxes and solstices. Summer traditionally begins on Memorial Day weekend and traditionally ends on Labor Day weekend. A holiday season begins when stores start displaying their Christmas decorations and advertising their Christmas sales—recently, this has happened around the end of October. The same holiday season ends with the celebration of the New Year, and then comes a dark and dismal season punctuated by a series of minor holidays including Dr. King’s birthday, Super Bowl Sunday, St. Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day.

But when does winter end and spring begin? One theory holds that winter ends if the groundhog emerges from his burrow on February 2nd and does not see his shadow. If he sees his shadow, he returns to his burrow and we have six more weeks of winter (putting the start of spring shortly before the equinox). Still other people make the celebration of Easter the beginning of spring, putting the start of the season anywhere between March 22 and April 25.

For three reasons, I place the start of spring at the beginning of March. First, this division nicely breaks the year into two halves. From March to August we write the full names of months, using three to six letters. From Sept. to Feb. we abbreviate the names of the months, using three or four letters. In my opinion, that distinguishes the times of the year as well as any other measurement.

Moreover, this plan provides nearly three full months of spring before the summer social calendar kicks in on Memorial Day weekend. Following this pattern, summer ends on Labor Day weekend, and the start of winter can be placed around the beginning of December.

But the best way to identify the beginning of spring is to consult the lyrics of Lerner and Lowe’s classic Broadway musical Camelot. In this idealized world, as young King Arthur assures his future bride Guinevere, even the weather is subject to royal decree. Among the commands that the weather must follow are these stipulations: “The winter is forbidden ‘til December, and exits March the Second on the dot.” Following this command of the king, the Salvageable household invariably acknowledges the beginning of spring on the second day of March.

Blessings to you on all your spring activities. J.

Seasons change

“The winter is forbidden ’til December/ And exits March the second on the dot./ By orders summer lingers through September/ in Camelot.”

I doubt that I would be fully happy in the climate-controlled world of Camelot as described by Lerner and Lowe. I enjoy the surprise of an unexpected snow in October or in April. Moreover, I prefer autumn weather to summer heat, so I wouldn’t choose to have summer linger through September.

However, part of my family routine is to mark the change of the seasons by the wreath on our front door. We have a patriotic, red-white-and-blue wreath that goes on the door during Memorial Day weekend and remains until Labor Day weekend. It is then replaced by a wreath with colorful plastic autumn leaves which stay on the door until around the first of December. Our winter wreath has evergreen and pine cones and stays on the door until the second of March. Every second of March, on the dot, the winter wreath is replaced with a spring wreath that has little yellow plastic flowers which match the flowering bush in our front yard.

This change of seasons on our front door runs about three weeks ahead of the calendar change of seasons, the changes which fall on the solstices and equinoxes in December, March, June, and September. In the United States of America the social season of summer traditionally starts with Memorial Day weekend and ends with Labor Day weekend. Both weekends are known for an extra day off of work and often are celebrated with family picnics, cook-outs, and other seasonal outings. By matching the change of seasons on the front door with those social customs, we naturally shift the other two changes to the start of Advent in the Christian Church and to the end of winter in Camelot.

March is said to come in like a lion and to go out like a lamb. I can remember frigid and snowy starts to March, and I can remember Marches that began with thunderstorms and heavy rain. I can also remember warm, sunny, calm beginnings to the month of March. Like other weather traditions, the lion-and-lamb theme is unreliable, but it is fun to remember the tradition and to pretend that it is true.

April showers, they say, bring May flowers, and that tends to be true in New England and in the upper Heartland states. Ask any child what May flowers bring, and the child will either give you a puzzled stare or respond with the correct answer, “Pilgrims.” Migrating birds respond more to the length of the day than to the weather; sometimes they have to deal with ice and snow at their springtime arrival. Onion skins and wooly caterpillars are supposed to indicate the severity of the coming winter, but they also are wrong as often as they are right.

If the weather was entirely predictable, we would have less to discuss with each other. Aside from catastrophic floods, droughts, and winds, the weather is a useful conversation-starter. It also provides enduring memories. I can recall a Christmas with temperatures in the seventies and another Christmas when the temperature remained below zero degrees-they were exactly one year apart. I can remember when the first warm day of spring happened to be Easter Day, and I remember being trapped for hours in traffic during an evening snowfall on Valentines’ Day.

Perhaps Camelot would not have ended in such frightful disputes if the knights and ladies could have spent their time commenting on the unseasonable weather. J.