written by Heather Elvidge
When will it be spring? The answer is far from simple. Ask a meteorologist and he’ll say March 1, because he likes to divide the seasons into three-month packages. An astronomer will say no, it’s the vernal equinox when the sun crosses the celestial equator, making day and night of roughly equal length all over the world.
This year the spring equinox occurs on March 20 at 11:02 GMT. This is a time of note for sun worshippers, like the Druids who gather every year to perform a ritual at Tower Hill. Yet the first stirrings happen earlier.
For our distant forebears spring began at Candlemas on February 2, when the first lambs were born. This makes sense, because Candlemas marks the end of the three months that have the shortest days.
Confused? It was easier in the days before calendars and record keeping, when the seasons could wander at will. “Spring” came when water was released from the iron grip of ice, allowing springs to run freely once again.
The old way of being attuned to nature’s signs is preserved in weather folklore. Remember, “spring has come when you can put your foot on seven daisies.”
According to the old lore, March 21 is one of four wind prediction days. So whichever way it is, that will be the prevailing wind until June 24. Naturally the wind will deviate from time to time, yet these wind prediction days give a good indication of what’s in store. The last one was on December 21, when the wind was from the north-east.
This winter does seem to have been going on forever. But it’s better to have cold weather now, rather than later. March 2012 was mild and spring-like, and we all know what happened after that. As usual, there’s a saying to sum it up: “Better bitten by a snake, than to feel the sun in March.”
Early Christians couldn’t agree on a date for Easter until 325, when the first Church Council set the formula. Easter Day would be on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.
But the controversy continued in England. Centres of Celtic Christianity, like Lindisfarne and Whitby, celebrated Easter at a different time from the followers of the Roman church based in Winchester. The matter was finally settled in 663 at the Synod of Whitby, which decided in favour of Rome.
And so the 24th is Palm Sunday, the last before Easter. It commemorates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, while the welcoming crowds waved palm leaves. In England, willow stood in for the palm tree. Willow was easy to find, and had the bonus of golden catkins.
Pussy willow was so popular that churchgoers called it English Palm. It’s still used in churches today, though the twigs are now cultivated in nurseries to ensure that they flower on time.
So far it’s been too cold to see catkins in the wild — temperatures need to exceed 6C for a few days. But after the spring equinox we’ll see more of the sun’s light every day and hopefully, feel some of its warmth.