Julia, lovely photos yesterday of autumn in your part of the world. Looking at those photographs, I realized how much my internal calendar has come to be based on things my friends have shared with me, societal norms, and how much I feel connected to the old Celtic calendar.
My introduction to the idea that a calendar can become a very personal thing started in my childhood. Back when women routinely wore such things, the absolute rules were no navy or black hats/purses/heels/gloves after Memorial Day and no white hats/purses/heels/gloves after Labor Day. I still feel a degree of sartorial distress when I violate one of those rules.
Over time, I have come to celebrate New Years four times each year.
My spiritual new year is Rosh Hashanah in October. I’m not Jewish, but I had a close friend who was and Rosh Hashanah was very important to him. He was a great believer in teshuvah. October seems as good a time as any to examine my life, make amends, and plan for improving during the coming year.
All Hallows Eve (AKA Halloween) is the temporal beginning of a new year for me. Something feels right to me, as it did for the Celts about marking the turning of the year at this point. Maybe it has something to do with the amount and quality of light at that time of the year.
New Years is my left-brain marker. It’s when I buy new day timers, plug my work schedule for the next twelve months into my computer calendar, close out my business files and tracking programs, and open new ones for the next business year.
Chinese or Vietnamese New Year is my celebratory one. It’s a hold-over from being in Viet Nam. Ask anyone who served there about the relief of surviving Tet (the first morning of the first day of the new year). I always get this tremendous sense of having made it through another year.
Moving from the American south—which has two seasons: hot and muggy or cold and muggy— to Canada created a serious seasonal crisis. I’ve lived in three places in Canada, each at a different latitude and had to adjust my seasonal attitude three times. Here’s where I am now.
Spring begins when the tree outside my bedroom window has mature green leaves on it. This is usually about May 15th. Summer begins on Victoria Day—the third Monday in May—so in Calgary, my spring is about 1 week long. Anyone who hopes to garden successfully in Calgary knows not to plant a garden before Victoria Day. Here’s a photo of my balcony one year on the day before Victoria Day. By the next day, all the snow had melted and I planted my bedding plants.
Summer ends on Labor Day, but the season that follows it is not autumn. It’s a nebulous time known as, “It’s coming, so better get those snow tires on!” It being the first hard frost, the first slush, the first “Oh, bother, it snowed” morning when you open the bedroom blinds to discover 4-6” of the white stuff outside. Then comes a warming period known as, “Isn’t it lovely weather, considering the frost/slush/snow we had only a few days ago?"
2009 October 24: the day the slush arrived. I loved the pattern in this photo.
For me, real autumn officially begins on Canadian Thanksgiving (second Monday in October) and ends on Halloween. So fall is about two weeks, twice as long as spring. Winter is divided into winter—hard winter one—absolute winter (AKA Fimbulwinter)—hard winter two—and “Do you smell barbecue?”
Halloween is my official beginning of winter, just as it was for the Celts. Hard winter is when the thermometer drops to -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) and stays there for a while. Absolute winter is the day or days when the thermometer crashes to the lowest temperature of the year. The record is -56 Celsius (-68.8 Fahrenheit). This is when I can so relate to the Norse Fimbulvetr (or fimbulwinter), which will immediately precedes Ragnarök (the end of the cosmos). Minus fifty-six may not be the end of the world, but as I bounce on a frozen seat, trying to start my car which has four frozen tires, I think I can see it from where I am.
After absolute winter comes another period of hard winter, when everyone breaths a sigh of relief and says inane things like, “Minus eighteen isn’t so bad, compared to what we had a few weeks ago.” The first harbinger of spring is not the first robin, but the first scent of barbecue on the air. This is likely to happen, irrespective of the calendar, on the first day that the temperature reaches -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit).
If you’re adding to your lists of what you know about your characters, I recommend including their special holidays, the ones they have declared for themselves, the ones that harken back to people they have known or places they have been, the ones where they are a little out of step with the rest of the world. It’s a great way to hit upon a personal celebration with which to juice up your plot or raise the stakes.
Something I know now that I didn’t know before the Poisoned Pen Press WebCon:
The publisher owns a percentage of the format of a finished, published book. What many readers don’t understand is that an author can’t take the electronic final galley and post it to an e-reader site. The author must go back to their final submission manuscript and make all the corrections by hand.
~Dana Stabenow, writer