Cross-Quarter Days: Equinoxes & Solstices as Seasonal Midpoints

I recently stumbled upon the Celtic concept of Cross-Quarter Days (or the “Wheel of the Year“) when discovering that my February 2nd birthday was a holiday of sorts — “Candlemas” to Christian religion and “Imbolc” to the Pagans.

Wanting to learn more, I eventually found this page on the ancient Celtic perspective of seasons, solstices and equinoxes, and this method of segmenting the seasons that really rang true for me.

In short, the Pagans saw the Solstices and Equinoxes as fulcrums of a season, not boundaries. Boundary dates were instead these Cross-Quarter Days:

“Unlike modern calendars that define the start of a season on a Solstice or Equinox, the Celts perceived Solstices and Equinoxes as events occuring mid-season, with the seasons actually beginning and ending on the Cross Quarters. Thus, Imbolc was the beginning of Spring. Imbolc corresponds more or less to Groundhog Day in the USA, February 2…”

“Perhaps the Celtic perception of the seasonal calendar harmonizes best with nature. Should Summer’s arrival really mark a time of year when daytime just gets shorter and shorter? Is it logical for days to only lengthen throughout Winter? It seems to contradict our perception of what these seasons are, or is it just a mid-Summer’s night dream of mine? The Celts believed major transitional days — Solstices and Equinoxes — should be enveloped by the time of year they signify, not stand for mere boundary markers! Celtic calendar keepers favored the Cross Quarters as bookends for every season under the sun.”

Halloween/Samhain thus holds a different significance when viewed from this perspective. Being the beginning of the Winter season, the focus on the dead, spirits and such makes more sense. Winter is truly when the natural world seems to “die”, and this indeed begins around October 31 and begins to end around February 2.

This also ties into some other interesting research that came up as an offshoot of looking into these Cross-Quarter Days — the Ghosts of Christmas in the classic Scrooge tale in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. And you also hear mention of “scary ghost stories” in a popular Christmas song, and many Christmas songs are in minor keys which I always found a bit odd. It seems ghost stories at Christmas is a tradition that has long fell out of use, and this was the case at Dickens’ time as well it seems he was attempting to revive the custom. As perhaps was the BBC with their yearly broadcast of ghost stories. And of course all of this helps explain the concept of Krampus, the demon companion to Santa/St. Nick!

When seen from the perspective that Halloween, Christmas and Imbolc/Candlemas/Grounghog’s Day all form the season “Winter”, it makes sense to have the first half — from Halloween to Christmas — be focused on the “darker” aspects (since the length of daylight wanes to it’s nadir at the Winter Solstice), and then the latter half signifying the “rebirth” and life-affirming aspects, since the length of days have begun once again to lengthen. An ideal time to demarcate a New Year. I wouldn’t doubt those clever Pagans actually celebrated the start of the New Year on the day after the Winter Solstice. The day when the days start growing in daylight.

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