by Barbara Bettis
Since January, here on the blog we’ve talked about the new year and new beginnings. As spring approaches we have even more of the new as we see the beautiful rebirth of nature after a long, cold winter.
Folks in the Medieval period also celebrated the end of the long, often lean, winter months, with new beginnings in the Spring. Those observances included that of—believe it or not—the New Year.
The Spring or Vernal Equinox was welcomed between March 22 and March 25 in the Julian Calendar, used at that time in history. (We see Spring Equinox on March 20 this year.) This was the time when the earth moved from cold weather into warmth and rebirth—new beginnings. An equinox is actually that day of the year at which day and night are of equal length.
The coming of Spring, the start of which was marked by the Equinox, was considered a time of fertility and new life. It was celebrated with special feasts, events, and some good old work. Accordingly, the Medieval New Year began about this time.
Later the church combined pagan equinox and fertility celebrations with the observance of The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Lady Day, on March 25. That was celebrated then as the Medieval New Year. Not until a few hundred years later and the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar (1582) did New Year move to January 1.
Pre-Christian spring activities included some pagan practices (of course) such as celebration of the old Saxon/Germanic goddess Ostara, goddess of spring and fertility. Closely aligned with her is the old goddess Eostra, who lends her name to our Easter—and other things. But that’s another story! Incidentally, no matter for what reason the remarkable Stonehenge was created, its stones are set in such a way that the Spring Equinox sun is centered. Currently, the legendary monument is opened for viewers to celebrate the spring equinox.
In medieval times, the serious business of spring planting also began in March, with a few early crops going in. Otherwise, more extensive preparation of the ground took place with April the prime planting time for other crops.
Yes, the equinox marked the start of a new year—and it was celebrated seriously, just as the people knew the serious work was beginning of raising enough food to last through the long, cold winter and into the next spring. The next new beginning.