Today you can celebrate three holidays that are connected. Today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. That means it falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.
This is the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc. It honored Brigit, goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. This was the day that she brought the healing power of the sun back to the world. I hope that my Paradelle neighborhood sees the first promise of spring today because winter has been pretty brutal so far.
Imbolc comes from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly.” It was the time when ewes became pregnant to deliver spring lambs.
February 2 became a Christian holiday called Candlemas Day which marked the presentation of Jesus at the Temple 40 days after Christmas and is marked by the blessing of candles.
February 1st is Saint Brigid’s feast day.
It is also a day marked by the emergence of some animals from their winter dens. These were viewed as omens that would predict the season ahead. In some European countries, watching the behavior of animals (badgers in particular) on this day to see if they emerged or returned to their dens predicted the season. It was believed that animals had a far more acute sense of the weather. Many people still believe that. If that badger emerged but decided to return to its den, it meant that there was still a long winter ahead.
If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
But if Candlemas day bring clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and won’t come again.
Of course, Americans are probably more familiar of the holiday created by German immigrants in Pennsylvania. They didn’t find many badgers in Pennsylvania but there were a lot of groundhogs.
Groundhog Day goes back to the mid-1800s. Though today it has become highly commercialized, the original idea was to continue the Candlemas day tradition of watching a denning animal emerge from its winter quarters. If it sees its shadow and goes back in, it is another six weeks of winter rest. For much of the U.S., there will be at least another 6 weeks of winter after today! If the animal emerges on a cloudy day, the thought is that it will remain out and the remaining winter weather will be moderate.