View Full Version : Cross-Quarter Days
05-01-2011, 11:10 AM
Well, today is May Day, Beltane to our pagan friends. It's one of four days in the year which are roughly halfway through a season, equidistant from the neighboring solstice and equinox. Two of the others are October 31/November 1 and February 2, All Saint's/Samhain and Candlemas/Imbolg respectively. The fourth would logically be July 31/August 1.
My questions are:
1. Is there any significance to celebrating the cross-quarter days generally? (Obviously there is an attributed significance to each individually, but my question is more, 'Why cross-quarter days, taken as a group?')
2. Is there some specific event associated with the July/August transition according to tradition? Does it have a pagan name?
Note that I'm well aware that there is no logical reason to believe in pagan holy days; I'm curious about them from a historical/cultural and calendrical standpoint. Please remember this is GQ; the answers are not your opinion about other people's beliefs, but the facts regarding what those beliefs are or were,
05-01-2011, 11:18 AM
August 1 is typically known as Lammas (Loaf-Mass) or Lughnasadh.
It is a celebration of the first harvest.
05-01-2011, 03:03 PM
There are several sets of cross-quarter days. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_day) lists the ones for England and Scotland; there is some variation in who celebrated what. After the shift to the Gregorian calendar, different communities did different things with the "new" dates (which is why Scotland's look out of whack here). I think it helps to note that Christmas is one of these, right opposite Midsummer (St. John the Baptist's Day).
Because of the Pagan interest, you'll find a lot of interest in the Celtic quarter days, usually known by their Irish names. Note that medieval, modern, and Anglicized spellings are all in use for these. Unfortunately, it is difficult to distinguish between genuine historical practices and misinformation listed by people looking for a connection with the past. There isn't a lot of evidence in medieval sources for how Imbolc (beginning of February) was celebrated, for example.
The particular set of (approxiately) the beginning of February, May, August, and November coincide with seasonal changes in the Irish climate that were important to agricultural people. The quarter days, like the modern solstice / equinox, were a way of marking the passage of seasons. That seems like the best answer to "why FOUR days out of the year, not one or two or nine." Further they were used for:
* Regulating changes in contracts: rent, employment, etc. (some were quarterly and some annual)
* Other business: fairs and festivals and community gatherings.
This last one shades into general holiday / celebration, and that in turn contributes to the magical / supernatural association, particularly for Beltaine and Samhain. Samhain, of course, gradually evolved into Halloween, but that's too long a story for a message board.
05-01-2011, 04:25 PM
I don't have a cite, but the impression I've always gotten was that keeping track of the quarters and cross-quarters made for an easier time when dealing with regularly repeating yearly tasks that had to be done within a roughly general timeperiod.
It's Beltane now? Ok, then that means that we plant the crops next week. The early spring crops? They went into the ground right after Candlemas. For people who didn't read or have calendars (or really any need to know the specific day) things like general planting and harvest times were more likely to be set and remembered by their temporal relationships to easily tracked times. Once you've got a social group that knows about and tracks the solstices, it's not hard to figure out what the midpoints are, and those make for additional easy "hey, remember this day" marks for things that generally needed to happen around that time. Less counting is good, and makes for fewer instances of mistakes.
After long enough as an agriculturally important occasion, it then made total sense that festivals and social events started to congregate on those same days, and then the progression to cultural/religious significance happened afterwards.
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