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Happy Agrarian New Year!

Something that has always seemed odd to me is that the beginning of a new year is in the middle of winter. That isn't strictly true of all cultures in all time periods, but it's been standard enough for long enough that I doubt few folks give it a second thought. When I read Eric Sloane's The Seasons of America Past I learned that the old agrarian calendar began the year on March 25. This makes sense to me! So here I am, wishing you a Happy Agrarian New Year.

The roots of this go back to the ancient Hebrew, Canaanite, and Babylonian calendars, where the first month started in the modern late March. The early Romans celebrated the new year on March 1st, but this was changed in 45 BC with the Julian calendar. It made January 1st the beginning of the new year. The best I can figure out is that this was done because the month's namesake, Janus, was the god of new beginnings. When Pope Gregory XIII had the calendar revised in the mid-1500s January remained the first month. 

The Gregorian calendar is the one we still use today, but March 25 remained the start of the new year in parts of Europe for a long time. England was the last holdout until 1752. According to Eric Sloane, early European American farmers continued to use March 25 as the first of their year, as documented by old farm calendars, almanacs, agricultural manuals, and personal diaries. 

With March as the first month, the quarters of the year make sense because the seasons correspond with the work for that time of year.
  • March, April, May - planting
  • June, July, August - growing
  • September, October, November - harvest
  • December, January, February - hearth
As you can see, the rhythm of the agrarian year is set by a relationship with the seasons and with the land. 

Last November I asked my readers to define agrarianism off the top of their heads (that post here). I promised to get back with you on what I thought, so this is the first of a series of posts exploring that. My understanding of agrarianism is that it isn't simply agriculture, it's a worldview.

What is a worldview? It's how an individual perceives the world and the way it works. It answers life's fundamental questions about the existence and nature of God, the origins of the universe, the place and purpose of humans, what happens after death, and how we determine right and wrong. Obviously there are many worldviews. Agrarianism is the one that makes the most sense to me.

The agrarian new year had it's own traditions in the rural US. It was celebrated with mead, and cider and doughnuts. It was the time to begin looking ahead to planting, with one of the first chores of the year being fence mending. It was also time to begin the laying up of the next year's firewood and splitting logs for fence rails. In the north it was (and still is) maple sugaring time.

Dan and I didn't have any mead, cider, or doughnuts, but we have been looking ahead to planning the planting season. Of course that includes the garden, but also we're been planning to expand our hay growing. We're going to work on our hedgerows and continue pasture improvement. Last week he cut the first tree to start curing for next winter's firewood and we have indeed started working on our fences. Some of them are in bad need of repair!

Of course, our spring begins earlier than others. And those who live south of the equator will be in the opposite season! But we all adapt, don't we?

How about you? Do you have seasonal traditions or tasks for March?


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