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OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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Seasons of the Medieval Year



The symbol for the moon, Zwiefalten monatsbilderIt is likely that in the early Middle Ages the progress of the seasons was marked by noting the first crescent of the new moon. Every 27 days, that crescent moon would appear in the night sky in exactly the same position, so the arrival of a new month could be easily noted.

The first crescent of the moon
The first crescent of
the new moon

Within this recurring lunar framework, the farming year came to be divided by quarter days every three months, and cross-quarter days which fell roughly midway between quarter days. Quarter days were typically on or near solstices or equinoxes, and marked out the four seasons of the year. Often these quarter and cross-quarter days were times of festivals or ceremonies.

Plans were made (and events remembered afterwards) not by dates, but by festival days; for example, an event might be said to have occurred four days after Martinmas, or to be planned for a week before Beltane.



Image of spring from the Zwiefalten monatsbilder


Medieval holidays


March 25
Quarter day

Spring equinox

Lady Day


Starting today, the hours of daylight increased; this was the traditional beginning of the year, for farmers and city folk alike.

Christian tradition adopted the spring equinox as Lady Day, AKA the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the onset of Mary's pregnancy. Nine months later, the time of the winter solstice was adopted as the date of the birth of Jesus.

March 22 to
April 25

Easter In the Christian tradition, Easter is a movable feast that falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. It takes its name from Eostre, or Ostara, a dawn goddess who is addressed as Erce in the Anglo-Saxon field blessing, the "Æcerbot."

5 weeks after Easter

Rogation Days  A pre-Christian tradition still practiced today, rogation involves having the local priest and his or her followers reaffirm the boundaries of the parish by walking along them while ringing bells and praying for a successful crop.
May 1
Cross-quarter day

May Day

One of the four most important Gaelic holy days, Beltane marked the beginning of summer. People and livestock passed between ritual (bel, bright; teine, fire) for protection and prosperity during the coming season.

May Day is a spring celebration that marks the end of the lean days and the beginning of summer with dancing, processions, and rituals related to fertility and abundance.

May 5 Þrimilch An Anglo-Saxon spring celebration, this is called Þrimilch, "three milk," because cattle could be milked three times a day during this time.

Image of summer from the Zwiefalten monatsbilder




June 20 or 21

Summer  solstice

Midsummer Day, with the most hours of daylight of any day of the year, and the fewest of darkness.

June 24
Quarter day

Eve of St. John's Day


Christian tradition adopted this day for celebrating the eve of the birth of John the Baptist. Bonfires are part of celebrations in many cultures; writing in the 1400s, Shropshire priest John Mirk says:

...in worship of St John the Baptist, men stay up at night and make three kinds of fires: one is of clean bones and no wood and is called a bonnefyre; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a wakefyre because men stay awake by it all night; and the third is made of both bones and wood and is called, St. John's fire. (Festial 182)

August 1
Cross quarter day



One of the four chief Gaelic holidays, Lughnasadh (LOO-nah-sah) is named for a late-coming god, Lugh Ildanach, Master of All Skills. His festival celebrates the harvest with religious ceremonies, athletic contests, feasting, pilgrimages to holy sites and wells, dancing, market fairs, and pageants.

Christian tradition adopted this cross-quarter day as Lammas, “loaf mass,” to bless the bread from the earliest harvest as part of a festival of first bread. It was one of the more important holidays of the year.

Image of autumn from the Zwiefalten monatsbilder





September 14 Holy Rood Day The traditional day to go gathering nuts in the forest; in Christian tradition called Holy Rood [cross] Day.
Sept 22 or 23

Autumn equinox

This day has equal hours of daylight and dark; now the days begin to grow shorter and the nights, longer.
September 29
Quarter Day



This quarter day was absorbed into Christian tradition as Michaelmas, the Feast of St. Michael the dragon-slayer. Harvest continued, along with the threshing and storing of grain. Winter crops were sown.On this day, rents and other debts were due, as farmers now had the means to settle up. It was also the day in Britain that the estate reeve was chosen from among the farmers to represent his peers and to supervise, under the direction of the steward, their daily activities.

St. Michael and the Dragon
Walters Museum MS W. 26

October 31 All Hallows Eve This is the vigil or evening ritual before the cross-quarter day that entered Christian tradition as All Saints Day. This night-time celebration is now called Halloween, a time when the boundaries between the living and dead are blurred.
November 1
Cross quarter day


All Saints or All Hallow's Day

Another of the four chief holidays of the Gaelic year, Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) marked the end of summer, a time when livestock was gathered off the pastures and brought home for the winter. Only breeding stock was kept until the next spring; the rest of the beasts were butchered and the meat processed for storage.  People and livestock alike passed between ritual fires for purification and protection as the year moved to colder, darker times.

In Christian tradition, adopted as All Hallows or All Saints Day.

November 2 All Souls Day All Souls Day, memorializing the non-saintly departed.
November 11 Martinmas

St. Martin’s Day, named for Martin of Tours, who was a soldier-monk and bishop but not a martyr, and revered for his generosity. Today was traditionally the day on which the butchering of livestock began, to lay in supplies of meat for the winter.

November 30 St. Andrew's Day, Advent

On the Sunday closest to this day, Christian tradition begins Advent, the four weeks that launch its religious year. Lasting until December 25. Advent was traditionally a time of fasting.

Image of winter from the Zwiefalten monatsbilder




December 21 or 22

Winter solstice


This day is the shortest of the year, and its night is the longest.

Yuletide was actually a two-month long season in December and January; during this time the festival of Yule itself lasted for 12 days. The world yule is from the Old Norse  jól, the name of a pre-Christian festival that lasted for 12 days.
December 24 Módraniht
Christmas Eve

The Anglo-Saxon holy day of Módraniht, Mothers' Night; later adopted in Christian tradition as the night before the birth of Jesus.

December 25
Quarter day


Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Christmas Day

The day of the late Roman festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun.

In Christian tradition, Christmas Day. Like Yule, the holy days of Christmas were twelve in number, continuing from December 24 until January 5.
January 6 Twelfth Night The end of the Christmas holy days, and called Twelfth Night or Epiphany, referring to the recognition by the magi of the divinity of Jesus.
February 2
Cross quarter day



The fourth of the chief Gaelic holy days, on Imbolc the Gaelic goddess Brighid would visit homes as part of a woman’s holy day and a time of feasting. Now the ewes began to lamb, and the cattle were taken off the bare fields so planting could begin. The goddess Brighid later took her place in the Christian pantheon as St. Brigit.

Christian tradition adopted Imbolc and called it Candlemas, a holy day marked by candle-lit processions. Priests also blessed candles and gave them to people to take home, where they were used for healing ceremonies in times of illness.

Medieval calendars and labors of the month

Roman names for the months

Carolingian names for the months

Anglo-Saxon names for the months



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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt


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