In the Northern Hemisphere, your calendar dutifully marks the Spring Equinox on or around March 20, and everyone proclaims “Happy First Day of Spring”!
Yep, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, Easter is somewhere in the vicinity and all is well with the world.
But when does spring really begin? Hint: Not on March 20th.
Please enjoy the day if you can! After all, there is finally an equal balance of day and night, and from here on out, light will continue to increase until the Summer Solstice.
However, is now the time to start that spring cleanse that so many in the health community (herbalists, nutritionists, naturopaths, health food stores, etc.) talk about?
And, why do TV meteorologists talk about seasons differently – do they base it on the weather rather than the calendar?
Perhaps you’ve been studying traditional medicine approaches like Ayurveda or Chinese Medicine and would like to incorporate seasonal health adjustments that are part of those philosophies? Do they use the same calendar system as North America?
There are many references to seasons when it comes to lifestyle instructions (when to make dietary changes, when to plant seeds and perform certain gardening tasks), yet almost none of these resources are very specific bout when the season is that they are referring to.
And because I tend to think deeply (obsess?) about details, I embarked on a journey to figure this out.
TLDR: I made a graphic and it’s at the end of this post.
The Journey Begins
The term “season” is a marker that divides the year in different ways depending on the culture and the method used. It’s really quite ambiguous, and a quick look on the wikipedia page might make your head explode.
In North America, the Astronomical calendar and Meteorological calendar represent what most of society thinks about the seasons, but they do not match each other. Folks following neo-pagan celebrations have a different calendar and those seasons are also different. Some cultures around the world don’t even have four seasons, but three, five or six!
The Astronomical Calendar says Spring begins on the Vernal Equinox
In the Northern Hemisphere, most calendars will tell you that Spring begins on the Vernal Equinox, on or around March 21st of each year. Summer follows, beginning at the Summer Solstice, Fall begins at the Autumn Equinox and Winter at the Winter Solstice. This timing is based on the astronomical calendar which reflects the sun’s relative position to the Earth.
However, our bodies and minds feel the energetics of the Spring season much earlier than the Spring Equinox. By early February, even the Groundhog is poking his head up to see if he can come out.
The Meteorological calendar says Spring begins on March 1
Meteorologists base the seasons on average temperatures, and this gets us slightly closer to actual seasonal energetics. In the meteorological calendar, the season of Spring generally begins on March 1 and goes through the end of May.
But this still doesn’t accurately reflect the waning and waxing light through the seasons. It’s the amount of light that impacts our body and soul, more so than temperature.
The Wheel of the Year says Spring begins on/around February 1 (Imbolc)
I actually began thinking about seasons many years before studying herbal medicine, while learning about the Celtic Wheel of the Year and the neo-pagan/witchcraft/wicca practices that have revived the associated festivals. This may be why I’ve always questioned contemporary seasonal designations.
The Celtic Wheel of the Year calendar splits the year up into four segments: four quarters with four major holidays, and four more “cross-quarters” with four lesser holidays. The beauty of these quarters is that they accurately represent the solstices and equinoxes, because the ancients lived by the light in the sky.
The solstices and equinoxes are the same as shown on our common Gregorian (astronomical) calendar of course, those don’t change. But the “first day” of the season designation on the modern calendar never sat right with me and didn’t seem to reflect the themes of Celtic festivals.
Noting the sun’s position relative to the earth, the day that marks the least amount of daylight (the longest night and the shortest day) is the Winter Solstice. Rather than looking at it as the FIRST day of winter as the astronomical seasons suggest, it is actually considered the MIDDLE of winter, or Midwinter, which just so happens to be a traditional term for that day. February 2nd is known as Imbolc/Brigid’s Day and is considered the first day of spring.
Digging Deeper: Herbal Medicine Traditions
Longstanding medicinal and lifestyle traditions have always incorporated the seasons into their healing philosophies. They are deeply embedded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, and Western Herbalism and even modern integrative medicine also have seasonal practices.
I’ve always wondered if “the seasons” referenced in these diverse schools of thought lined up. Is Spring in Ayurveda the same as Spring in TCM, and do the seasons from eastern practices line up with western seasons?
These are a little harder to answer, because Ayurveda has three seasons mapping to the energetics and elements: Kapha (Earth/Water), Pitta (Water/Fire) and Vata (Air/Ether), but also have names for six and even twelve seasons. TCM has about five, that may or may not line up with the elements of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. Some TCM calendars show Ether in the middle of the circle rather than lined up with a distinct season.
Overall, I can’t tell you how many herbal books I have that talk about the seasons, but always in a loose manner and never specifying exactly what they mean. How vexing!
As far as spring cleanses and spring foods are concerned, I think the answer can only be looked at individually. How has the person eaten all winter? What kind of health are they in and what do they need adjust? What is their constitution? And what is the temperature like where they live? Usually fats and protein are needed more for cold weather, and as the days get warmer the diet should lighten up.
Flower Essence Energetics
When I started making flower essences, I developed long-term relationships with plants that took me through the seasons year after year, and I began to really notice the energy of seasonal shifts. In Northern California the edible spring greens like Dandelion, Chickweed, and Miner’s Lettuce start popping up in late January/early February. It’s still relatively cold and rainy (usually), but there is a different quality and it feels tied to the increase of light.
On The Flower Essence Podcast, my co-host Kathleen Aspenns and I talk about the energetics of the different seasons and how they can affect our bodies, minds and emotions, and how flower essences can help. Stay tuned for the The Spring Season episode, dropping on March 11.
One Wheel to Rule them All
I gathered the data I could find and mapped the seasonal references that matter to me. It’s basically a Celtic Wheel of the Year with TCM and Ayurveda seasons added, and the purpose is to have a visual means to compare seasonal energetics, depicted around a 12-month North American calendar.
I really made it for my own learning reference but am happy to share if this helps you out too.
Do you agree with this as a more accurate representation of seasonal energy or do you have a different perspective? Let me know what you think!
Do you need support?
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Listen to The Flower Essence Podcast
Listen to The Flower Essence Podcast to hear two Flower Essence Practitioners, Rochana Felde and Kathleen Aspenns talk about everything essences, geek out about plants, have fun, and go deep with tough subjects. Find us where you listen to podcasts! You can also read the transcripts or listen directly on the website: