I Am Celebrating Everything

I don’t know what to celebrate today and tomorrow.

The lunar calendar is a calendar based upon the monthly cycles of the Moon’s phases (synodic months), rather than the solar calendars that most Westerners are familiar with and use daily. The Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar and is the most common calendar system, originally evolved out of a lunar calendar system.

year of tigerToday, that lunar calendar makes this the New Year that is most known as the “Chinese New Year.” This year is the Year of the Tiger. I made the mistake last year of ordering Chinese takeout on this day. Wow, was that a long, long wait for delivery!

But the Lunar New Year is celebrated by all those who follow the lunisolar calendar, including countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia and Indonesia, as well as diaspora communities all over the world. Similarly, Tibet, Thailand, India and other South and Southeast Asian cultures celebrate the new year based on local calendars.

Imbolc and BrigidBut I could celebrate the ancient Imbolc, a word  that comes from the Old Irish imbolg, which means “in the belly.” That needs some explanation.

It probably comes from early February being the time when ewes became pregnant and will produce spring lambs.

candles Christians took this pagan holiday and repurposed it as tomorrow’s Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy). Imbolc became associated with Saint Brigid who was thought to bring the healing power of the Sun back to the world.

But Candlemas is meant to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth. Any church ceremony will include bringing candles (the return of light) and Brigid’s crosses to church to be blessed.

Of course, tomorrow Groundhog Day takes most of the attention in America. What can I say about that silly holiday that has some origins in nature that I haven’t already written about on this site?

groundhog

Candelora and Winter Weather

Per la Santa Candelora se nevica o se plora, dell’inverno siamo fora, ma se è sole o solicello, siamo sempre a mezzo inverno
(“For the Holy Candelora, if it snows or if it rains, we are through with winter, but if there is sunshine or even just a little sun, we are still in the middle of winter”)

candles

Candelora is a Roman Catholic religious festival celebrated in Italy on February 2. This year the day is also the American Groundhog Day, Super Bowl of football – and another day of the impeachment proceedings for President Trump. The Presentazione del Signore (Presentation of Our Lord) had been called the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

It is more popularly called the feast of Candelora and in English-speaking countries, it is known as Candlemas Day (Candle Mass).

On Candlelora, all the candles to be used in the church throughout the year are consecrated as the symbolic “light of the world.”

At one time, the custom that a Jewish woman, including Jesus’ mother, would be considered impure for the 40 days after the delivery of a male child and were not allowed to worship in the temple. After the 40 days, these women were brought to the temple to be purified.

February 2 is 40 days after December 25, the day the Church marks the birth of Jesus. This traditional Christian festival also marks the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple, a holiday was observed by Christians in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century AD. By the middle of the fifth century, the celebration included lighting candles to symbolize Jesus Christ as the light, and the ritual of blessing of the candles became common practice around the eleventh century.

The “coincidence” of our Groundhog Day being on the same day is one of the weather.  As the proverb of weather lore stated on the top of this post shows, noting the weather on February 2 is supposed to predict the weather for the remaining six weeks of winter.

Is it another coincidence that February 2 is also a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox? No coincidences.  Some people of the Northern Hemisphere have believed for millennia that if the sun comes out at the mid-way point between winter and spring, winter weather would continue for another six weeks. I have always thought that it seems more logical that NO sun on this day would suggest that winter would continue, but that’s not the tradition.

Since the sixteenth century, North American folklore has followed some old European traditions that if on February 2 a groundhog/woodchuck comes out of its hole after winter hibernation and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, it will retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.

The weakest part of our modern American celebration is that those poor groundhogs do not “emerge” naturally from their burrows because of some internal clock, environmental conditions or planetary magic. They are forced into the public.

There are some scientific bases for using signs in nature to predict the change of seasons and weather. Our Groundhog Day and Candlelora has no scientific basis.

My friend, Patricia, lives in Florence and might be celebrating Candelora (‘Candelaia’ in Tuscan dialect) there this weekend. It is a tradition in Tuscany that goes back to the Middle Ages.  Florentine churches still distribute holy candles to parishioners on this day.

We’re Halfway There. Turn the Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Wheel of the Year in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
major erit glacies post festum quam fuit ante.” *

Today is the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Yes, it is Groundhog Day and I have written about that here before. But how many different ways can you explain the origin of our tradition of expecting an animal to predict the coming weather? I can always explain to people my love of the film Groundhog Day, but I’ve done that here too.

Today I’ll just write about the winter midpoint, also known as a cross-quarter day. No matter what that groundhog (or a badger, as the original German tradition had it) or any animal does when he pokes his head out from hibernation today, be optimistic. We are halfway through winter.

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans. It can be considered to have either four or eight festivals. Some celebrate the four solstices and equinoxes, which are known as the “quarter days.” Some also celebrate the four midpoints between, such as today, which are known as the “cross quarter days.”

Festivals celebrating the cycle of the seasons was far more important to people in the past. You might also hear Wiccans refer to these festivals as sabbats, a term from the Middle Ages. It was probably taken partially from the Jewish Shabbat.

Today is Imbolc on the wheel, the first cross-quarter day. It is supposed to be a time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year’s new life.

ewe and lambs
In Ancient Rome, this was a shepherd’s holiday.

Among Celts, this day was associated with the onset of ewes’ lactation, prior to birthing the spring lambs. Celtic pagans dedicated this day to the goddess Brigid.

The Winter Solstice was the shortest day of the year with the fewest sunlit hours. But after that, the Sun started its return journey back toward us in the Northern Hemisphere. You didn’t notice that move back in December, but after today you can actually see and feel this gradual reappearance of the light.

Maybe you will pick up a hint of the coming of spring. Look for the first tiny buds. Some snowdrops will push their fragile blooms above the frosty soil or even through the snow.

Yes, hibernating animals are stirring in their dens and underground nests. They may even go out at night and grab a meal and then return to their winter tunnel.

If Groundhog Day seems silly, think of this as the Celtic Imbolc, or as the Chinese Li Chu’un, or the Christian Candlemas. The Latin quote at the top of this piece is a little rhyme translated as “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight. If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”  In other words, good weather today is a bad omen. Bad weather is a good sign.

So, don’t be concerned with midwinter divinatory practices. Spring is six weeks away. Some of those days to come will be wintery; some will be springlike.  It’s okay to hibernate for another six weeks and feel like the universe has decided that’s the way it should be.

* That quote at the top of this post is probably open to interpretation as far as the weather ahead. It translate as: “If the sun shines with Mary the mother of purifying,
after the feast of ice will be greater than it was before.”

Groundhogs, Candles, Snowdrops and Thoughts About Spring

snowdrops
Candlemas Bells, also known as Snowdrops

I pay attention to when plants in my area begin to show signs of spring. I like having snowdrops (AKA Candlemas Bells) in the garden and around the house. They are bulb plants that you should plant closely together to create a snowy blanket of Galanthus nivalis.

I can’t say that they are very good at predicting the end of winter or coming of spring because, as the “snow” in their name suggests, they are just early bloomers. Sometimes they bloom in February and they may not even wait for the snow to melt before emerging. But, they are a cheering sight, even if it doesn’t mean the cold weather is gone.

The pile of snow in Paradelle today is higher this morning than from the blizzard that went north last week, and that immediately puts me in the mood to watch Groundhog Day again.

I have watched it plenty of times already, but it is kind of the perfect film to watch over and over, and especially on this Groundhog Day.

I have written about it in more detail (see The Zen of Groundhog Day) but it’s a film that has a lot more to it than just being a funny Bill Murray/Harold Ramis comedy. A web search on the film will turn references to philosophy, Buddhism, Zen, and certainly some of that was intentional.

Harold Ramis (director & co-writer) said that he got mail from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and they all find meaning in the film, use it in sermons, talks and classes. But you don’t need to see it as a version of the Buddhist cycle of continual rebirth. It is a tale that starts out as cynical-funny and ends up sweet-funny.

But you have at least four things you might celebrate today, February 2nd. The one that gets the most media attention is Groundhog Day, but there are some ways to connect all of them.

Saint Brigid’s cross

This is the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth.

Yesterday was Saint Brigid’s feast day.

On this day, she brought the healing power of the sun back to the world. See a connection to our modern Groundhog Day?

Imbolc comes from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”  probably because it was the time when ewes became pregnant to deliver spring lambs.

candles

Like many “pagan” holidays, February 2 became a Christian holiday. Candlemas Day marks the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after Christmas. People brought candles to church to be blessed and for a time some also brought their Brigid’s crosses too. The fire element is important to the pagan and the Christian traditions. One tradition says was that Saint Brigid put a ring a lighted candles on her head and led the Virgin Mary into the temple in Jerusalem. Besides Candlemas, the day is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. Some of the same traditions are held in Italy, where it is called Candelora.

The ancients paid careful attention to the movement of the Sun and Moon and today is also “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. That means it falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox. It would have been a day to consider that winter was halfway over and spring was at least in sight and in your thoughts. Observers of nature could also find evidence of this.

Though animals pay no attention to our calendars (Unless we force them to come out in this day!), this was a time when in some parts of Europe and America that some animals might emerge from their winter dens.

Quite logically, if an animal emerged and found a blizzard or bitter cold, they were likely to head back in and wait out winter for a few more (maybe 6?) weeks. Humans viewed this behavior as an omen and believed that the animals had some better sense of what was to come in the weather.  In some mix of Imbolc, Saint Brigid, Candlemas and the cross-quarter, today became the day to pay particular attention to the behavior of animals (badgers in German tradition and bears in France) on this day to see if they emerged or returned to their dens.

I like to read about weather lore and Candlemas (or whatever you want to call this day) has long been connected to predicting the end of winter and start of spring.

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.

German immigrants in Pennsylvania didn’t find many badgers, but there were a lot of groundhogs and so we have Groundhog Day. The celebration goes back to the mid-1800s. It has become ridiculously commercialized (which the film pokes fun at) but the idea that if the groundhog sees its shadow and goes back in, it is another six weeks of winter has roots in traditions and observations from our past.

For 2015, Phil the groundhog in Pennsylvania saw his shadow. Big surprise on this snowy day: spring is still a month and a half away.

Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve

candles

Robert Herrick’s poem is for the Eve of Candlemas. Candlemas was marked on February 2nd as the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people’s homes. This was also a time that people brought their candles to church to be blessed. In the Catholic Church, it is the celebration of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation in the Temple of Jesus.

CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE
by Robert Herrick

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

In the traditions and superstitions of an earlier time, it was said that leaving any traces of berries, holly and other Christmas decorations would bring death among the congregation before another year is out. Harsh stuff.  And another belief was that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling from a church on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative. Each toll of the bell represents a day that will pass before the unfortunate news is learned.

In Scotland and northern England, Candlemas was one of the traditional quarter “term days” when quarterly rents were due for payment, as well as the day or term for various other business transactions, including the hiring of servants. In England, that tradition existed into the 18th century and in Scotland didn’t change until a law was passed in 1991.

Saint Brigid’s cross

Besides being Candlemas Eve, today is also Saint Brigid’s Day celebrated by some in Ireland. Whether Brigid was a real person or if she was a goddess that Christianity took over may never be decided. Saint Brigid was known for her generosity. She gave away her belongings, and God always restored them. Though she was stationed at a monastery of men and women in Kildare, she traveled the island to give aid.

When people brought their candles to church to be blessed, some also brought their Brigid’s crosses too. The fire element is also in the tradition that Saint Brigid put a ring a lighted candles on her head and led the Virgin Mary into the temple in Jerusalem.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, February 2nd, celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus.  Besides Candlemas, it is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord.

snowdrops
Candlemas Bells, also known as Snowdrops

Though it is primarily a religious holiday, it also has ancient  traditions and it is sometimes seen as the first sign of spring.

Adding to our weather lore, it was believed in the United Kingdom that good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate that some severe winter weather is still to come.

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.

This is similar to the Groundhog Day tradition in the United States.

It was also believed that bears and wolves emerge from hibernation on this day to check the weather. If they choose to return to their lairs on this day, it is interpreted as meaning severe weather will continue for at least another forty days.

Some of the same traditions are held in Italy, where it is called Candelora.

Candlemas Day

Saint Brigid’s cross

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.

Badger emerging from den

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.