It’s coming—you can feel it in the air. Already the evenings are cooler. It won’t be long before we’ll have to face those cold, gray winter mornings again. (Of course, this isn’t so much an issue for us southern Arizonans, but for those in less hospitable climes, let me just say, I still remember and I feel your pain…)
This time of year always brings with it a certain lethargy. You know how it goes, one minute you’re lying in the arms of Morpheus, snoring peacefully, and then the alarm goes off—again—and you hit the “snooze” button—again, roll over and pull the covers up over your head. Some days it takes an almost Herculean effort to finally rouse yourself, swing out of bed, and plant those nice warm tootsies on the cold, hard floor.
This is all Demeter’s fault, you know, at least according to Greek mythology. She’s the goddess of the harvest, the one who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. And before she got mad and created “seasons,” it was always warm and sunny—an eternal spring, if you will.
In her defense, she was sorely provoked. In fact, she was acting out of the strongest love of all—the love of a mother for her child. Here’s what happened:
Hades was the king of the underworld, but he was no Adonis. The babes weren’t exactly flocking to him, so he resorted to some rather unscrupulous methods of courtship. In this case, the beautiful goddess Persephone, who happened to be Demeter’s daughter, was out picking flowers when Hades opened up a great chasm in the earth, rode out in a big black chariot, and abducted her.
Demeter was understandably heartbroken—and furious. Life came to a standstill as she wandered the earth in search of her daughter. It grew cold and dark, and all the plants were withering away. Finally, Zeus, the father of the gods, couldn’t stand the dying earth any longer and sent Hermes, the messenger to the gods and a guide to the underworld, to retrieve Persephone.
Hades agreed, but there was a catch. It was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the underworld was doomed to spend eternity there, and Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds. (Kind of makes you wonder how bad hell can be if they have pomegranates there…) So a deal was struck in which it was agreed that Persephone would return to the underworld every year for one month for each seed she had eaten. In other versions of this story, it was as few as three seeds or as many as seven (probably depending on the local climate). During those months, her mother continues to grieve and the earth is barren.
This explained a lot. In ancient times, many people worldwide based their yearly calendar on the seasons. When the crops were harvested and the fields lay empty awaiting the promise of new planting and growth in the spring, it marked a logical end to the year. So in many ancient cultures, you will find that the new year was celebrated in the fall.
Even today, this makes a certain amount of sense, though for different reasons. Especially for those of us in the education field—or who have kids in school—the beginning of the school year brings a new schedule and yet another opportunity to finally “get organized.” Personally, I like the idea of celebrating “New Year’s” in the fall. Just after the winter holidays, I’m pretty wiped out. But now, rested and refreshed after a summer vacation, it seems like the perfect time to resolve to do a better job with those sit down family dinners, to make regular exercise a habit…or whatever your particular Achilles’ heel may be. (More on those pesky New Year’s resolutions later this week…)
Now, I know there are those who don’t understand why people keep harping on all this ancient history stuff. Whatever those ancient Greeks believed or didn’t believe, they would argue, it has no bearing on our modern society. To change things at this point would only lead to chaos.
Don’t panic! I’m certainly not suggesting any official move away from the Gregorian calendar. (Wouldn’t that open a Pandora’s box?) But for personal planning purposes, it just seems more logical to celebrate a new year at a time when we’re already adjusting to a new schedule and routine.
So, for anyone who wants to give it a try, let me be the first to wish you a jovial New Year. May it bring you good fortune and the wealth of Croesus!
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