Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, and Groundhog's Day

A little lesson for today:
You may have never heard of Candlemas. I hadn't until a few years ago.  Candlemas is celebrated on Feb 2 and is the day when the Catholic church blesses all the candle for the coming year.  It is also seen as the day Mary would have been considered clean, following the ancient Jewish custom of a woman being unclean for 40 days after giving birth.
As is oft the case, there is a lot of evidence that Candlemas was co-opt from the ancient pagan celebration of Imbolc/Oimelc which celebrates the "quickening of the Earth"- the stirrings of the Earth (mother) after the conception at the solstice.  Imbolc means, literally, “in the belly” (of the Mother). The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. Oimelc means “milk of ewes”, for it is also lambing season. Imbolc/Oimelc is celebrated at the mid-point of the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The Irish celebrated the goddess Brigit at this time. She was the goddess of the hearth, midwifery, poetry, and silversmithing.  The day was celebrated with sacred bonfires, honoring the hearth.  The Catholic church also celebrates the feast of St Brigit around this time, claiming the ancient goddess was a Catholic saint sent by god.  Many neo-pagans have reclaimed the traditions of Imbolc and celebrate around bonfires.

Shooting up from the belly of mother earth.

It is commonly held the midpoints between the solstices and the equinoxes are auspicious times for predicting the weather.  This tradition is seen in Candlemas lore.
If Candlemas be sunny and bright
Winter again will show it's might
If Candlemas day be cloudy and grey
Winter soon will pass away.
In America we have adapted this ancient tradition and now wait for a little groundhog to peek it's head out of the ground to tell us whether or not winter is waning or will continue for 6 more weeks.

These daffodils think that spring is coming soon.

There are a great many traditions around Candlemas/Imbolc/Groudhog's Day.
-It is the day homemakers could start their morning chores without the need of candle light.
-It is said that a sea voyage that is begun on Candlemas will end in disaster.
-Christmas decorations that were not taken down by Jan 6 should be left up until Candlemas Eve.
-It is good luck to burn a sprig from your holiday greens in your Candlemas fires.
-In France it is good luck to eat crêpes on this day. It is tradition to hold a coin in your writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other, and flip the crêpe into the air. If you manage to catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year.
-In parts of Germany people would eat pea soup and dried pig ribs, the ribs afterwards being hung in the room till sowing time when they would be put into the sown field or in the seed-bag as a protection against earth-fleas and moles, and to cause the flax to grow well.
-It is bad luck to bring snowdrops (white snow flowers) into the house before Candlemas Day. It is very good luck to bring them in on Candlemas day.

The first little snowdrops in the garden.
Tomorrow we will eat crêpes for dinner and have many candles at the table.  I have a little sprig of holiday greenery that we will add to the fire we will light outside in our firepit. We will wait to hear if the groundhog sees his shadow. (The boys are hoping for a sunny day so they can get in some sledding, while I believe I'm finished with winter this year and would happy to see a cloudy day.)  I will search my garden to see if any more snowdrops have poked their little heads from the ground.  I will stop and be reminded of the cycle of birth and death and rebirth. 

My boys discovered these lovely little flowers growing in the woods behind our house.
I do not know what they are?  Do you?


  1. Wow, thanks! I loved learning all this, and hopefully I'll remember to celebrate it next year! I think that wildflower is a buttercup. I am enjoying reading your old blog posts- thanks for posting to Oakbranch. Here's hoping Spring is around the corner!

  2. Jen- Thanks, you are correct. These are buttercups. I always thought buttercups were the teeny little yellow flowers you find in the summer. Now I'll have to figure out what those flowers are called. Maybe they are different varities of the same flower. I'm ready for spring no matter that Pennsylvania groundhog said!