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Spring’s Early Welcome

It’s all how you divide the year

The first week of February marks a seasonal milestone, as the sun hovers midway between its southernmost point above the Tropic of Capricorn on winter solstice and its position above the equator on vernal equinox. If you think of the year as a compass with the equinoxes and solstices the four cardinal points, then this cross-quarter day — one of four — represent the ordinal points, dissecting our seasons.
    Cultures around the world from the earliest days of civilization have recognized this division of the solar year, yet not all emphasize the quarter days over the cross-quarter days.
    For the ancient Celts, each cross-quarter day marked the start of a season, with this the beginning of spring, or Imbolc. The traditional Japanese lunar calendar celebrates Risshun — literally spring begins — on February 3 or 4, a discrepancy based on our modern calendars.
    Even within the church, this is a time of new beginnings. The holy day of Candlemas on February 2 commemorates the Rite of Purification, 40 days from the birth of Christ, when Mary was allowed to return to temple and present Jesus to the congregants.
    It’s no accident that these celebrations coincide with Groundhog’s Day. Already, beneath the ground, life returns. Regardless of an early spring or six more weeks of winter, this is the time to gather your seeds and prepare the soil.
    In our clime this time of year, a spring-like day can yield to winter the next, as Tuesday’s full moon — dubbed the Snow Moon, the Wolf Moon and the Hunger Moon — reminds us.
    In the gathering darkness, look for Venus ablaze in the southwest for an hour after sunset. Jupiter stands opposite in the south-southwest, visible until midnight, just around the time Saturn rises in the east. Mars rises around 8:30 and is nearing its best apparition of the year.