Right now it’s the summer holidays, and in many places, the young people are home from school, and families are off doing the holiday thing. Or trying not to kill each other. It’s worth noting however that the origin of the summer holidays has nothing to do with having a good time, and everything to do with needing the young people to help get the harvests in. The norms of our school systems pre-date the combine harvester and other such devices.
You don’t have to be much of an etymologist to spot that ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and for many of our Christian ancestors, the holy days were the only days off, if you were lucky. Servants tended to have to work on Sundays and over Christmas etc, but religious celebration has provided our ancestors with much needed opportunities to down tools and socialise. The pilgrimage is the ancestor of the tourist industry, and holy journeys and holidays have a great deal to do with holidays.
This is the time of year when many of the young things born in the UK’s spring will become independent. Inevitably it means this is also a time when a lot of them will die, through accident and inexperience.
The transition from dependant to independent varies from species to species, and part of why it varies is the complexity involved in being an adult. You can spot newly fledged birds, because they’re often waiting around making a racket, with parents coming back to feed them regularly even though they’re now out of the nest. They look like teenagers.
I just spent two months in the United States and got to see spring in three different places. Really, I got to see three different springs.
My first spring was in San Francisco, which was unaccountably hot. The last time I was in San Francisco, in the July of their summer, I needed my winter coat. This February I needed t-shirts, which I hadn’t packed. It was hot. Not just mildly warm, but as if I’d arrived in the middle of summer, except it wasn’t. There were leaves on the trees, magnolias in full bloom, shedding those deep-red-purple centred white petals onto the street. I felt completely disoriented, particularly as I’d come from my own Blue Mountains where – in summer – I’d been needing to wear several jumpers.
In my part of the world the green returns somewhere between the standard Pagan festivals of the spring equinox and Beltain. It’s something I quietly celebrate, because the return of colour to the world, and the return of leaves is something I find uplifting. It’s not an event, and it’s impossible to ascribe a reliable date to it. The greening happens in response to light, temperature, and the mysterious whims of plants.
Underwood tends to leaf first – I’m seeing elder and hawthorn leaves. Weeping willows are in leaf, osier willows still have bare branches. Chestnut is underway, ash isn’t particularly. Each tree comes into leaf in its own time. Other plants all have their own unique relationship with the seasons – early spring flowers are going over, a new set of plants are flourishing, the woodlands are green with the leaves of garlic and bluebells, while the fields and hills brighten with new grass.
When I first started on my pagan journey I was presented with the Wheel of the Year and it seemed most pagans worked with it. I spent ages trying to remember the dates and learn the names and correspondences, even to this day I have to stop and think about it when trying to recall what is what!
I also started dressing my altar for each sabbat and looking up all the correct colours, herbs and associations to know what to put on it.But I have to admit I started to lapse and I realised that I wasn’t connecting with the celebrations and what I was doing was just a mechanical action because I thought I had to.