Cross Quarter Celebration: A New Tradition? - Forest News
The Children's School, guided by science teacher Mr. Will Hudson, had its own celebration on February 1st, and learned about many cultures that have holidays that fall on key dates in solar, lunar, and seasonal cycles (like the Chinese Lunar New Year, or the Gaelic festival of Imbolc.) Our own cross-quarter "Winter Memories and Spring Anticipations" celebration marked the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox in March. Here's Mr. Hudson's news about the outdoor event:
What the day looked like:
Throughout the day on Tuesday, February 1st, the entire school observed a cross-quarter day celebration to welcome the first days of spring, Chinese New Year, and Black History Month.
Students came to the Riverside to enjoy peppermint and cinnamon tea, warm applesauce, or a pumpkin soup inspired by Haitian soup joujou, or Freedom Soup, that simmered on an outdoor wood stove. Middle level students sent runners to gather and wash cups and spoons every 30 minutes to cut down on waste. Others prepared ramen and even cooked pancakes on the wood stove. Towards the end of the day, the students in Ms. Angela's class ground their own flour and baked small drop biscuits.
We had a canned food drive to restock community fridges and local food banks, and students placed drawings and reflections of winter memories and spring anticipations on the bulletin boards in the office hallway. By afternoon it was raining, and by evening we were deep into the biggest snowstorm of winter.
The next day, the groundhog apparently saw his shadow, and though we were celebrating the beginning of spring, it looks like we're in for six more weeks of winter.
Pre-Event Learning in the Classroom
Prior to our celebration Middle Level students revisited the cause of the Earth's seasons as the relationship between the Earth's axial tilt (23.5º) and the sun and how the Earth’s orbit results in predictable patterns of solstices and equinoxes throughout the year.
The lesson began with a reading of the Ojibwe story, "How Fisher Went to the Skyland", which describes the origin of the seasons and the Big Dipper. I explained how cultural and traditional stories about the Earth are deeply important and serve a wide variety of purposes. Though some may disagree, science tells a different kind of story. I believe that neither is better or more important than the other, but that both help us to better understand our world and appreciate our place in it.
I explained to students that our objective was to clarify our understanding of what causes the seasons and to provide context for the cross-quarter day celebration we'd be having the following week. After completing a "pre-quiz" to assess their knowledge of how the seasons, solstices and equinoxes occur, students had an opportunity for research to check their understanding and two videos.
Ourlesson concluded with a discussion about how the significance of the seasons has changed for us over time and encouraging students to bring attention to how the position of the sun in the sky will steadily get higher as we move into the summer months. The lesson concluded with a reading of the first stanza of "The Seasons" written between 1765-1775 by Lithuanian poet Kristijonas Donelaitis.
Seasons are slippery things. Like all things in nature, looking closely reveals fewer divisions and demarcations than gradients and interconnections. Some are clear, others are hidden, but there are countless threads of connection to follow for those who take the time to look. I recently learned about cross-quarter days, or the points in the Earth’s orbit between seasonal solstices and equinoxes. Up until recently, I hadn’t given these events much thought, but in looking more closely I came to see the value in reconnecting our own lives to the changing of the seasons.
For most of us, the transition from one season to another is reckoned more by what we wear than by the relationship between Earth’s tilt and our orbit around the sun. Even among those who pay attention to such things, the point at which we transition from one to the other is largely a matter of perspective. By meteorological reckoning, the seasons are defined by average monthly temperatures. Astronomical reckoning divides the seasons based on quarterly solstices and equinoxes. Solar reckoning assigns cross-quarter days, or the midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes, as the beginning of each new season. Bring ecological reckoning or lunar cycles into the mix and the permutations of how we mark our movement through space and time compound exponentially.
One thing is for sure, it’s been winter for a while now, and it’s taken its toll on many of us both physically and psychologically. I enjoy the winter months, but February and even March can wear on me. The ongoing pandemic has thrust us all into a collective winter of its own right, and it sometimes feels like we’ve been trapped in February for years with no end in sight. Spring is on the horizon, or so we think. The winter solstice has passed, and the sun climbs higher in the sky, but time stands still and the promise of spring feels like a maybe.
In her book, “Wintering - the Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times”, author Katherine May writes about how we encounter periods of winter in our lives when we must enter into a kind of psychological hibernation. To make it through, we dig in, huddle up, conserve our energy and resources, and focus on staying warm. During these times, we allow our bodies and minds the opportunity to rest, recuperate, and prepare for our reemergence in spring. For countless centuries the rhythm of the seasons was the rhythm of our lives, each season imbued with its own timbre, significance, and tradition that gave meaning and measure to our days. Once central to our reckoning of life and time, we’ve largely lost the beat, and we drift between shorts and t-shirts, sweaters and snowpants. But, as May suggests, we can regain that rhythm and find our way back into a more meaningful connection with this most fundamental of natural cycles.
Our cross-quarter day celebration on February 1st was a way for our school community to begin the process of reframing the passing of time with that of the seasons. We took inspiration from and acknowledged cultural traditions like the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, the Czech day of Hromnice, Candlemas, the first day of Chinese New Year, the beginning of the lunar calendar, and Groundhog’s Day. We will come together again in six weeks for the vernal equinox, which also marks Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, India’s Holi festival, and I’m sure many others that I have yet to discover.
The world’s oldest known astronomical observatory, Nabta Playa, located about 500 miles south of modern day Cairo, was built more than 7,000 years ago. However we choose to reckon the seasons, humanity first looked to the sun and stars and marked their rhythm while standing upon African soil. It only seems fitting that our celebration also fell on the first day of Black History Month and National Freedom Day. What better way to celebrate the first day of spring.