A season skeptic, consumers beware

Four seasons

Image: Kev Payne.

Regular flat white, no sugar. That was the order I placed at my local coffee shop yesterday when I overheard two men having what could only be described as a seasonal argument.

One of the men, an American, was explaining that in the US they take the start of spring (our autumn) from the vernal equinox – the date at which the sun crosses the celestial equator and day and night are of equal length. The result of this is that America (and several other countries in the Northern Hemisphere) have slightly fluctuating seasons; spring usually commences on March 19, 20 or 21.

The Australian man, a portly gentleman in his mid forties, seemed fine with this and even appeared intrigued, until his acquaintance informed him that Australian seasons operate in exactly the same way but in reverse. “Autumn is, and always will be, March, April, May,” he declared, with Abbott like patriotism.

Whilst I have always adhered to the belief in a set seasonal calendar, the idea of a roving Autumn dictated by the sun interested me greatly.

In a 2014 ABC article, Sara Phillips observed that ‘our understanding of seasons is purely cultural, so if the seasons shift as a result of climate change, we can expect that our culture will have to adjust too.’

This assertion that the four Australian seasons are merely arbitrary in their constitution seems obvious, but is rarely given a second thought. Of course, I thought to myself after reading Phillips’ article, the seasons as we know them are manmade. Moreover, they are hardly universal.

The Burarra Aborigines subscribe to a two-seasonal calendar comprising of wet season and dry season. The Gooniyandi people have an extra season and fall somewhere in between the Burarras and our cappuccino slurping friend. Antithetical in complexity to all three of these is the calendar of the Yawuru Aborigines, which highlights six climatic periods of varying lengths that occur throughout a given year.


The Yawuru seasonal calendar. Image: Bureau of Meteorology.

With a little more research I’m sure I could go on, but there is little need. It is evident that the seasons as we know them are just that – as we know them. So, if autumn and winter and their two mates are merely arbitrary cultural constructs, why are we all so regimental in our adherence to them? Why do I throw on a jumper in April and deem it far too warm to wear jeans? Why does the tap connoisseur at your local watering hole make the conscious switch from something dry to something fruity in September?

Let me put on my cynic cap for a moment here and suggest that maybe the seasons are simply marketing ploys by retailers attempting to clear old stock and make us think we need something new. I should add that I’m not devoid of a sense of touch – I can feel the difference between hot and cold, but I’m suddenly very skeptical of autumn and spring.

In a recent article, Infinity Marketing noted that ‘summer, spring, winter and autumn are opportunities for businesses to prosper if they understand and harness seasonal trends. Financial institutions in particular need to be mindful of consumer habits and seasonal trends so they can market products and services when they are most relevant.’

This makes sense and I fully understand why you would be ill-advised to launch an advertising campaign for barbeques in the dead of winter. But it also explains why clothing labels run ‘autumn collections’ often comprising of items that could easily be adapted and worn at anytime of the year and, more significantly, why we still buy into them.

Winter has commenced in Australia and whilst I’ll no doubt be rugging up to avoid the chill, I can’t imagine that keeping warm will require a whole new wardrobe. The same goes for the rest of the year – treat yourself, but know why you’re making the purchase. If you’re grabbing that t-shirt because the checkout lady told you it has a summery vibe, it’s probably not the world’s smartest buy.

There isn’t, when you think about it, a hell of a lot of difference between spring and summer in Australia – they’re both just bloody hot.





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