Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reasons for seasons

From time to time over the years, mainly in the pages of
the Listener, I have argued that we in New Zealand have
our summer holidays too early: that the custom of
starting them by Christmas at the latest does not reflect
changing weather patterns. My memories of childhood
suggest that 50 years ago anyway summer came as early
as mid-November; certainly by the first week or two of
December we were chafing for school to be over, seeing
the sun beat down with a burning glow on the asphalt
playground outside. Christmas and New Year in those
days are associated in my mind—possibly erroneously—
with sultry heat, scorching sands and the raw cries of
fathers hammering tent pegs into protesting earth.
Summer peaked in January and fell away thereafter.

In recent years, however, it has become plain that real
summer barely gets going by the New Year and that the
warmest month is actually February—just when schools
go back. Hence my case for the school year to go to mid-
January and recommence in March, with Christmas Day
and Boxing Day becoming the basis of a four-day long
weekend, like Easter. A Catholic archbishop interviewed
about this earlier this year [Dominion Post, 6 January]
even supported the idea, on the grounds that 'If the break
was in February, there would be less distraction around
Christmas time and therefore more of an opportunity to
focus on the religious aspects of Christmas.’

Weatherwise, what we seem to have now is a prolonged
semi-spring that surfaces as early as August and muddles
mildly along till at least December, with occasional
regressions to wintriness; and a broader tendency for all
the seasons to become less distinguishable from each other.
How much this has to do with global warming I don’t know,
but whatever the reason, our mental habits remain wedded
to the four-season model imposed on southern-hemisphere
countries by European colonizers, albeit in reverse.

So I’m delighted to see that an Australian botanist is calling
for the creation of one or two additional seasons, which he
says would more accurately reflect Nature’s rhythms.’ Tim
Entwisle, of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, ‘is advocating
that spring be brought forward to August and last only two
months, to be followed by a new pre-summer season,
spanning October and November. Summer would start in
December, as at present, but would last four months, then
there would be a short autumn in April and May, and a brief
winter in June and July’ [New Zealand Herald, 22 August].

With tongue in cheek, Entwisle even suggests new names
(sprinter and sprummer); but it's worth noting in this
regard that New Zealand already has its own name
(Matariki) for a concept of seasonal change reflecting local
reality rather than historical habit. I can see a day coming,
actually, when Christmas is no longer universally celebrated
in countries like ours, nor made the occasion for a public
holiday. Even in our own time, its grave is being dug; and
the gravestone will be hung with flashing lights and tinsel.

1 comment:

Tom Semmens said...

Do you not just mark the seasons on the equinox?

Thus, spring starts on the 23rd September and summer on the 22nd December.

I agree though we seem to end winter proper a few weeks earlier these days.

If I were king of the world, Schools wouldn't close until the first Friday in January. I would tidy up anniversary weekend by moving the entire country to the last Monday in January, like Auckland. I would move "Boxing day" to the second Friday in January and the "New Years" holiday to the second Monday in February.

That would (in most years) effectively give two four day weekends one after the other - the upshot of that would be that would be when people take their annual leave, to maximise time out of the office (eight days leave equals sixteen out of the office).

And school goes back at the end of February.