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August is the sound of insects at night. When I am sitting outside I am assaulted by cicadas loudly announcing that it is mid-summer.
I wouldn’t call their sound a “song” and cicadas are pretty creepy looking. I came upon a dead one today when I opened the barbecue grill. (Take a look at this cicada molting for a quick sci-fi moment.) They have those large, wide apart eyes transparent, veined wings.
Cicadas are often colloquially called locusts, but they are unrelated to true locusts. In the second half of August, you find their cast off shells around the garden.
And then there are the katydids.
You can hear some calling out “Katy did! Katy did!” in one part of the trees, and another answering “Katy didn’t, didn’t, didn’t!” from the opposite direction. Listen to them.
Okay, I admit that I don’t really hear those words clearly in their song. I have trouble with bird songs that are compared to human speech and seeing the “pictures” in constellations. It is a bit of a stretch, but good for the imagination.
True katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) are relatives of grasshoppers and crickets. They grow over two inches long and are leaf-green in color. Katydids have oval-shaped wings with lots of veins which makes them look a lot like leaves. They spend most of their time at the tops of trees.
According to my nature calendar where I record buds, blooms, fruiting and other signs of seasonal change, the katydids usually show up right at the start of August. This year, the cicadas and katydids arrived a week early.
It is a folklore observation that says that autumn will arrive 90 days after the katydids start to sing. That would make it the last week of October here in Paradelle.
You are much more likely to hear a katydid than see it. And what are they singing about? Like many insects, they are singing for love. Or lust, I suppose, as the males are trying to attract a mate. This is their reproductive season (August through mid-October).
The males are high in the trees and females come to them. Katydids are poor flier, preferring to walk, and a male katydid may never leave the tree on which he was hatched.
Their song comes from rubbing their wings together (known scientifically as stridulating) and the other katydids are listening with tympanal membranes on their knees.
The song’s tempo is faster in hot weather and slower on a cool night. Their number diminish as we get into fall and that first hard frost will kill the remaining ones.
Katydids eat leaves of most deciduous trees and shrubs, and seem to like oaks best. But they don’t do any serious damage to the trees or shrubs, so we don’t bother spraying insecticides for them. Their enemies are the birds, bats, spiders, frogs, snakes, and other insect-eaters.
There are some folk stories about “what Katy did” but none I have read are very interesting. I prefer to think of them as a signal that summer is half over, and their song fades as summer fades.
I do a lot of posts that touch upon the calendar – seasons, celebrations, holidays, the Moon, astronomical occurrences. Most of the time I am in “our calendar” – the Gregorian calendar. Today, it is the internationally accepted civil calendar and is also known as the “Western calendar” or “Christian calendar”. It was named after the man who first introduced it in February 1582: Pope Gregory XIII.
It is a solar calendar based on a 365-day common year divided into 12 months of irregular lengths. 11 months have either 30 or 31 days, while February has only 28 days during the common year. (Nearly every 4 years is a Leap Year, when one extra – or intercalary – day is added on 29 February.)
The Gregorian calendar reformed the Julian calendar because the Julian calendar introduced an error of 1 day every 128 years. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar allowed for a realignment with astronomical events like equinoxes and solstices.
However this switch from Julian to Gregorian probably was pretty odd to folks back in 1582 in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain where it was first adopted. This “Gregorian reform” meant a number of days had to be dropped. They dropped 10 days in October 1582. It changed the rules to determine the date of Easter, and for calculating Leap Years.
The Hebrew calendar has months that change with the new Moon, and the full Moons fall in the middle of the month.
A solar year is about 11 days longer than twelve lunar months, so to keep holidays tied to their seasons, the Hebrew calendar occasionally repeats the month of Adar.
The Islāmic calendar is also lunar. The months start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon, a few days after the New Moon.
Unlike the Gregorian and the Hebrew calendars, the Islāmic calendar has no leap days or leap months to stay in sync with the seasons, so Islāmic holidays occur approximately 11 days earlier each solar year.
Today is Chinese New Year which is the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It is estimated that almost 3 billion trips will be made across China as people make the journey home to celebrate with their families.
This celebration, known as chun yun, is the longest national holiday in China, spanning a total of fifteen days. Day one is the most important day but the first three days of the new year are a statutory holiday and many people will be off for the first 6 days.
Yes, China has been using the same Gregorian calendar we use here in Paradelle since 1912, but the ancient Chinese lunar calendar is what creates this New Year.
In that lunar calendar, the New Year is changeable and falls on the second New Moon after winter solstice. That puts it somewhere between January 21 and February 19.
2014 was the Year of the Horse (though the lunar year is not always comparable to our January-December calendar year) and that has ended but this new year is a bit unusual because you may see it named the Year of the Goat or the Year of the Sheep. The confusion is because the Chinese character “yang” can be translated in colloquial Chinese as either sheep or goat. I’m reading that in France, it is being called the Year of the Goat. In America, sheep has favor. In China, they are less concerned with the distinction.
I read at the end of 2014 that some people in China were concerned about births and marriages occurring in a sheep year as it was a “bad year.” The common impression is that sheep are meek, doltish “followers.” Some of this seems to come from the late Qing dynasty (late 19th century) when the Empress Dowager Cixi and several other high officials were despised. They all happened to be born in the Year of the Sheep/Goat and so it becamse associated with a negative spin. Followers of the Chinese zodiac say that all 12 signs are auspicious, so don’t worry.
Valentine’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, Sweetest Day, Mother’s Day and Fathers’ Day all fit the “Hallmark Holiday” definition of a holiday. The word “holiday” comes from the Old English word hāligdæg. The word originally referred only to special religious days. The word derived from the notion of a “Holy Day”, but has evolved (or more accurately devolved) to its current form. Valentine’s Day is the second biggest card-giving day of the year in the U.S.
It’s a bit sad that it has all turned into cards and candy and restaurants charging extra that day for the same old food. So much guilt and obligation about buying or forgetting to buy gifts.
Those ancient Romans loved festivals. They had a fertility festival in mid-February called Lupercalia. It honored Lupa, the wolf who saved Romulus and Remus, who then founded the city of Rome.
Lupercalia was a pagan festival and included sacrifices of goats and dogs. The festival was still very popular even when the Roman Empire was officially Christian. Of course, the Church wanted to replace it with something more acceptable. Something with a saint would be nice.
That early Christian priest, St. Valentine, who was martyred on February 14 in 269 A.D. actually has a good story. According to legend, due to a shortage of soldiers enlisting, Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to get married in order to increase his army. Valentine rebelled in his priestly way by performing secret wedding rituals. He was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. While awaiting his beheading in jail, he fell in love with the daughter of a guard who visited him. On the day he was executed, the priest left a note for the woman professing his love and he signed it “Love from your Valentine.”
But Chaucer often gets credit for making St. Valentine’s Day more of a secular and romantic day. When he wrote in the 14th-century his “The Parlement of Foules” he returned to that springtime idea that “on seynt Valentynes day” the goddess Nature watched all of the birds choose and seduce their mates. (“Foules being fowls or birds not “fools” – though these days the latter may be a better description for our behavior on this day.)
Chaucer wrote the poem for a patron poem to honor the marriage of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. There are no records of St. Valentine’s Day festivities in the English court until after Chaucer’s time. he nicely blended the nature and fertility associations, especially the rural English belief that birds choose their mates on February 14th, to the courtly love conventions of the day.
In Japan, Valentine’s Day is observed by women who present chocolate gifts (handmade ones are considered better) to men.
Honmei choco (“true feeling chocolate”) has also become “obligation chocolate” as women are expected to not only gift boyfriends, prospective boyfriends, and husbands, but bosses and almost any guy who has done them some favor.
The Honmei chocolate is higher-quality and more expensive than giri choco (“obligation or courtesy chocolate”) which is given to male coworkers and other men to whom the woman has no romantic attachment.
Don’t get mad ladies. There is also a reciprocal “holiday” called White Day which is celebrated one month later on March 14th when men buy candy and gifts for women. This is also observed in South Korea and Taiwan.
On White Day, males who received a honmei-choco on Valentine’s Day are expected – obligated – to return the favor by giving gifts, usually more expensive. Popular White Day gifts are cookies, jewelery, white chocolate, white lingerie and marshmallows.
Would you be surprised to find that White Day is a modern holiday first celebrated in 1978, or that it was started by the National Confectionery Industry Association?
But wait – there’s also Black Day a month after White Day (April 14) which appears to be more of a South Korean informal tradition for single people. Not being a big candy eater, I like this day when singles get together and eat jajangmyeon (white noodles with black bean sauce). It’s a day for those who did not give or receive gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day.
So many “Hallmark holidays” (a disparaging term that is not encouraged by the Hallmark card company) designed to sell things and make us feel guilty for being alone or not a loving as we should be. Next to New Year’s Eve, I would say that Valentine’s Day (now more often used without the Saint part) is a day that splits people between happiness and sadness.
The December New Moon occurs tonight (December 22). With the Moon positioned exactly between the Earth and the sun, it is considered an opportune time of the month for a good view of the objects that are otherwise not visible due to the moonlight.
To astronomers, the phrase “new moon” means when the Moon is “in conjunction” with the Sun as seen from Earth. The dark (unilluminated) portion of the Moon faces almost directly towards us on Earth, so the Moon is not visible to the naked eye. The “dark moon” is invisible from Earth.
The original meaning of “new moon” was when first visible crescent of the Moon is seen. That rather imprecise event is a brief period that happens over the western horizon between sunset and moonset, so the exact time/date of this event is based on your geographical location. Culturally, the first crescent marks the beginning of the month in lunar calendars such as the Muslim calendar, and in lunisolar calendars such as the Hebrew calendar, Hindu calendars, and Buddhist calendar. In the Chinese calendar, the beginning of the month is marked by the dark moon.
These beliefs have also led to the Hindu calendar belief that a new moon can create negative mental changes. The goddess Kali is worshiped on new moon night to relax these fluctuations.
Some Chinese Buddhists keep a vegetarian diet on the new and full moons.
The new moon signifies the start of every Jewish month, and is considered an important date and minor holiday in the Hebrew calendar.
The Celtic calendar consists of thirteen months based on the lunar cycle. The holiday called Samhain marks the end of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on October 31st until sunset on November first.
This time was chosen because it was the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and so this Gaelic festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.
An interesting feature of this lunar calendar is that after Samhain there is a period of five days that are not a part of the calendar year. This is a time considered to be between the states of chaos and change. It is a transition between the old and new year. It is a period of “no-time” and we enter that period tonight.
After we pass through these transitional five days of “no-time,” the new year begins.
Of course, a lunar calendar isn’t as accurate as our modern calendar, but in its time it served the needs of people. The no-time was a way to adjust the lunar calendar to make a year that coincided with astronomical events.
Afte the period of no-time, a short first month of Maghieden launches the year. It is considered an auspicious time for births, beginnings and a good time to start a journey. Maghieden lasts until the next full moon making it the shortest month of the year.
In this kind of lunar calendar the “Full Moon” marks a period of time rather than an event on one night. It would be as if when the Full Moon came next for us we called it the November Moon and started the month on that day and it lasted until the December Full Moon.