top of page
Search

When does Spring Begin?

'“Look to the leaves!” […] “Look at what is shooting up, what is fresh and new, what is withering and what is falling. And then, look to the flowers and look to the fruits.” This was how Indigo marked the passing of time.' (The Gollogans in Spring, forthcoming)


At the beginning of The Gollogans in Spring, Evie is desperate to see a primrose. She even has a poster of a primrose on her wall which she printed out from the computer, because the gollogans told her that the first primrose marks the start of spring. Gollogans mark everything by things they see in nature and not by a calendar. Let nobody tell them that they may not have chosen the best flower to go by, as primroses can bloom as early as December. Who can argue with a gollogan?


But are the gollogans perhaps right anyway? In this post I delve into all the ways we can determine the beginning of spring. It is not as straightforward as you might think!





Below is a photo of a dishevelled primrose I took in December when David Hallangen, the illustrator and I were debating when spring actually begins. It is not the healthiest-looking, but it is definitely a primrose in flower.




Mind you, it is late January now and the early primroses are only slowly coming back to life after being ravaged by frost following their early blooming. At first sight, going by things seen in nature, as the gollogans do, seems to be a pretty unreliable way to calculate the start of spring.




But even going by official methods, there is not much more clarity.


The astronomical definition: For astronomers, spring is calculated according to the spring or vernal equinox.

There is a lot more information on this at the Greenwich museum website, but in brief, the equinox, when day and night are of equal length, is determined by astronomers, who look at the position of the earth in relation to the sun. The spring equinox usually falls around March 20th, so we are nearly two more months from spring if we go by this calculation.


From a "nature" point of view — it is fair to say that on St Patrick’s day, March the 17th, just a few days before the equinox, our walk down to the local parade is usually lined with hosts of daffodils in the grass verges, which certainly makes that time feel very spring-like.




The meteorological definition: Meteorologists, on the other hand, go by average temperatures at different times of year and divide the year into handy periods of three months. In this case, spring begins on March 1st and runs until the end of May. Summer is then June, July, August, autumn starts at the beginning of September and so on.


Judging it by temperatures might be more useful for gardeners thinking about when to sow seeds, though if recent years are anything to go by, we are liable to have an unexpected blanket of snow in March.


According to official calculations, then, spring is either March 20th/21st, depending on the year (astronomers) or March 1st (meteorologists).


The cultural definition: However, in the Gaelic calendar that Evie and Jake follow, it is St Brigid’s day, or Lá Fhéile Bríde, which marks the beginning of spring. This day takes place on 1st February. In Ireland, a new bank holiday was recently introduced to honour St Brigid, Ireland’s only female patron saint. This year, it will take place on 5th February. Effectively, this is the “spring” bank holiday here, although over in the UK, the so-called “spring bank holiday” takes place on 27th May, almost four months later. More fodder for confusion!


St Brigid’s day has its origins in the Celtic festival of Imbolc and was a festival of fertility which was widely celebrated in rural Ireland. If you are interested in learning more about this and even making your own St Brigid’s cross, have a look at the great information and resources on the National Museum of Ireland’s website.


This definition of spring as 1st February could be described as cultural definition, based around traditional customs and practices, though, admittedly, the customs of Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day surely have their origin in the fourth (!) definition of spring, the one favoured by the gollogans.


The phenological definition: As indicated at the start, the gollogan method is one that goes by the appearance of things in nature. This is a phenological definition of spring (from Greek phainō meaning to ‘show’/‘make appear’). This can vary from year to year according to the climate and includes when flowers bloom or animals come out of hibernation. By this definition, spring did start in January this year as I have seen daffodils in the gardens of Malahide Castle and there have been camellia flowers on our bush for a few days already.





So when does spring begin? Well, it seems to depend what aspects of “spring” you are taking into consideration. As we move from January to February, March and beyond, there are more and more signs of “spring” — flowers appearing, animals coming out of hibernation, warmer temperatures and lengthening days. All of these factors work together to create a feeling of spring-time.


In fact, the problem is not so much with spring, but in efforts to put a calendar date on this continuous process of change and expect all the factors of spring to converge at the same time every year. Even a more fixed phenomenon like the vernal equinox does not guarantee warm temperatures, blooming flowers and a spring-like climate. In this sense, the gollogans are right! Go by what you see and feel.


As for the start of spring in 2024? The flower pictures in this blog post were all taken today, 1st February. Seeing many different flowers out, hearing the birds singing and with today being St Brigid’s day/Imbolc — I am going to take a chance and wish you a happy spring-time! Never mind if I am building snowmen next month with the children.


What is your favourite way to determine the start of spring? Please comment below.


9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page