When I first traveled to Iceland in 2007, I was intrigued to learn that Icelanders had long found two seasons enough – summer and winter. It was the short summer with its very long days, and the long winter with very long nights that ruled the basic aspects of their lives. Summer (sumar) started in late April and winter (vetur) began in late October on their old calendar.
As a person who has lived most of her life in regions that feature – and appreciate – four seasons, the idea of two seasons seemed quite unusual. It seemed to signify a simpler way of life, but also one with a less complicated plant world. Certainly important features of the seasons of spring and autumn are the leaves that unfurl in spring, and color and fall off in autumn. The landscape in Iceland definitely turns green as the snow melts and temperatures warm. Leaves are not as important a component of that landscape as they are farther south.
Iceland officially adopted the twelve month Julian calendar when they accepted Christianity in 1000, and words for spring and autumn were added to their everyday vocabulary somewhere along the way. The Icelandic Weather Service currently identifies autumn with the months of October and November and spring with April and May. Despite this, Icelandic calendars continue to show the first day of summer on a Thursday late in April.
Recently my thoughts turned to Daylight Savings Time. This annual shift of the time by one hour happens twice a year. This has been happening in the United States since the end of World War I. In 2006 Daylight Savings was brought to its longest annual period, starting the second Sunday of March and ending the first weekend in November. Its start does not mean the beginning of summer, but I think that most of us consider it an indication of warmer weather on its way.
Daylight Savings Time and traditional Icelandic seasons: Isn’t it interesting that a minor shift in perspective can help us realize that what appears initially to be another culture’s strange practice is almost identical to a familiar part of our own?