Winter, in many parts of the world, is long and dark. The sun sets early and rises late. The earth is cold and sluggish. Growing things are bare and colorless. Living things retreat into their warm burrows and hibernate. Winter can be a great time for mental regrouping and quiet contemplation, but it can also be long and miserable. And by February, when the holidays are long passed and spring seems like a distant mirage, the winter can seem most miserable of all.
But yesterday and today marks a special time of year. Known to the pagan tradition as Imbolc, to the Christian tradition as Candlemas, and to the Americana tradition as Groundhog Day, February 1-2 marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Historically observed throughout Ireland and Britain, Imbolc was a Gaelic feis, or festival, celebrating the beginning of spring. Derived from Gaelic, the word imbolc means “in the belly,” literally referring to the beginning of the lambing season, but also metaphorically referring to the quickening in the land and its inhabitants as spring approaches. Associated with the goddess Brighde, Imbolc is a festival of hearth and home, a celebration of new life and growth. Lambs will be born; the blackthorn will bloom again. The days grow longer, and the air grows warmer. All is pregnant and expectant–a promise of renewal, an unveiling of hidden potential.
In an interesting parallel to the modern practice of Groundhog Day, Imbolc was traditionally also a time for weather divination. The Cailleach–the divine hag of Gaelic mythology–was rumored to set out on this day to gather the rest of the firewood she would need for the winter. If she wished to make the winter last much longer, then she would ensure Imbolc was bright and sunny so she would have maximum time to gather her wood. Other legends told that serpents or badgers emerging from their dens could foretell the duration of the winter.
This time of year is special to me, and not only because February 2nd happens to be my birthday. Living up north, the winters are cold and snowy and sunshine is very much lacking. And no, we won’t see proper springtime for several months yet, if we’re lucky. But Imbolc is a reminder that the sun will return and the cycle will begin again. Birth, death, rebirth. The everlasting wheel of the seasons.
So I try to make this a time to let go of the past and to look to the future. To clear out the old and to create both outer and inner space for rebirth and inspiration. To light a candle for the year ahead and welcome back the sun. To rededicate myself to the important elements of a happy life: love, kindness, and creativity.
I welcome the returning light and witness my own appetite for rebirth. What was begun has now ended, and what has ended may begin again!
Do you celebrate Imbolc, Candlemas, or Groundhog Day? What does this time of year mean to you?