In the year before Jesus was born, the angel Gabriel was quite busy flying around notifying women that they were pregnant. First he told Elizabeth, who was too old to have children, that in six months she would have a son named John; six months later he had to go to Nazareth and tell Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, that she too was pregnant.
These miraculous conceptions and births neatly divide the year into quarters, called, appropriately, Quarter Days: Lady Day, or the feast of the Annunciation, when Mary received her news; Midsummer Day, birthday of John the Baptist; Michaelmas, the feast day of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, and presumably the day Elizabeth received her news; and Christmas.
Then there are the cross-quarter days, falling neatly and evenly in between all the quarter days: Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, and All Hallows.
How comforting it must have been, these numinous, luminous links between the temporal wheel of life and the eternal. If only I could paint like the Limbourg brothers, I would paint us peasants, down here planting; with Gabriel in gold leaf up above, announcing the news to Mary.