Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Since we are now honoring more yearly rhythms in our family, (and really, who needs an excuse to celebrate?) we celebrated Candlemas/Imbolc/Groundhog Day yesterday. Even though our celebration borrows a bit from many traditions, I have chosen to simply call it Candlemas. Candlemas is a cross-quarter holiday, which means it falls at the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In a nutshell, it’s about welcoming the return of the sun after the darkness of winter.
The ancient Celts began celebrating this holiday in honor of their goddess Brigid. Goddess of fire, healing, poetry, home, and fertility, she is the keeper of the eternal sacred flame, and ushers in the arrival of Spring. Any remaining yule greens would be removed from the home and burned, thus sending winter on its way. It is a time for a cleansing of the home, both literally and figuratively. The Celts called their celebration Imbolc, which means “in the belly” referring to the pregnancy of the ewes. Imbolc is still celebrated by pagans today.
When Christianity swept the globe, the church realized that they could not prevent the people from celebrating their goddess, so they sainted her and renamed her Brigit. Thus it became that Candlemas is a day that candles are made, or brought to the church to be blessed. It is considered the day that Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem.
From Candlemas, the holiday became Groundhog Day in the US and Canada. Long ago, it was believed that hibernating animals began awakening on this day. If the groundhog fails to see his own shadow (due to overcast weather) the worst of winter is over, and spring is on its way. Spring doesn’t arrive officially until March 20th, however I’m happy to report that our “groundhog” did not see his shadow yesterday.
It used to be believed that due to the lengthening daylight hours that occur around Candlemas, housewives of long ago would no longer need to work by candlelight in the morning. Hence the saying, “candlemas, candle-less.” And indeed, in our little home, we noticed just a few days ago that we are now eating our evening meal while the sun is still out. Spring is coming!
While I shared simplified versions of these traditions with my children in the morning, I’ll admit that most of this research has been for my own benefit.
In preparation for the changing of the nature table, The Daddy Monkey and I made the figures above. Brigid, lamb and ewe. I designed and drew them on the oak board, The Daddy cut them out, and I sanded and painted them. I am so in love with them. I cleared away the winter nature table, and replaced it with a white silk, our figures, the freesia we planted, and the beeswax candles I made.
I made our favorite pancakes for breakfast, a round symbol of the sun. We ate breakfast by candlelight, which the kids thought was a novel idea.
I was originally planning on making candles with the kids, but once I thought about it, I realized that me + 2 hyper kids + hot wax = a trip to the emergency room. So I made beeswax candles by myself. The whole project took less than an hour, and I have to admit that I am now completely head over heels for beeswax candles. I cannot get enough of that fragrance.
I made two Brigit’s crosses out of wheat, with The Boy’s help.
We planted a basket of wheat grass for the nature table.
We read poems (Shel Silverstein) in honor of Brigid. Bedtime stories were The Happy Day and A Little Bit of Winter, both from our own collection and both perfect for Candlemas. (I’m so sad to see that A Little Bit of Winter is out of print.)
I know most families don’t celebrate Candlemas, but for us, I think it was a perfect fit. Living in Florida, it’s about this time of year that we start seeing longer days and warming temperatures. All in all, I’m glad I did all the work leading up to this, and I know that next year’s celebration will be much easier, now that I know all of the stories and traditions. It was a special, fun day, but I think next year, I will stretch out the activities over a week or so, rather than making it all happen on one day. It seemed like a bit too much for me. I also look forward to including the kids a little more in our celebration next year.
Special thanks to all the links I’ve included above, the book “All Year Round,” and the countless bloggers over in my blogroll who have written about their Candlemas celebrations of years past. I’ve tried to link to information that I read online, but I’ll admit it all started to blur together after a while.