Sing in the Spring!

A traditional Brighde's Cross, woven from reeds
A traditional Brighde’s Cross, woven from reeds

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.

Candlemas also celebrates a return of the light
Candlemas also celebrates a return of the light

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?

Drum Up The Sun

night sky looking towards Orion
night sky looking towards Orion (Photo credit: kronerda)

This time of year is a dark, quiet one. The sun rises late and sets early — and in some places, it hides its face from night and day alike.

We try to fill the void of the sun with colored lights and candles, festive trees and bright decorations. It’s a time of year when the night rules the calendar. The symbolism in the many holidays that cluster around midwinter is rife with images of renewal, rebirth, of beginnings. The New Year, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hannukah — all these holidays are rooted in light, hope, and the start of something new even when they look toward the past.

Frankly, this winter has gotten off to an awful start for me. As of writing this, I have been sick for over three weeks. It started with a sore throat and stuffy nose and morphed into a racking cough, followed by earaches and a resurgence of symptoms. Pneumonia. Bronchitis. Sinusitis. Ear infections. I’ve had all of that since Thanksgiving.

It’s been a time where my husband and I had thought we were at financial rock bottom — only to find out that we had pickaxes in hand and were hacking away at the ground beneath our feet. I had to humble myself and ask for help. Publishing grinds to a halt, and my inbox has been a world of silence on my many queries.

And Sunday was the year anniversary of my cousin’s tragic death, the memory of which has fogged my emotions with the smoke of grief that still hasn’t faded. One of my closest childhood friends lost someone he loved on Sunday in an eerie parallel to what happened to my family one year ago.

Friday was a day none of us will easily forget. A day when we were reminded that no matter how much joy exists, there are people who cannot or will not drink from that cup and instead sow anguish and reap nothing but death.

The holidays will forever bear deep sorrow for Newtown, Connecticut and for the families who will spend these days crumpled by the agony of 26 small children and adults snuffed out from our world forever.

 

Bear with me. There’s a point buried under all these Job-like afflictions.

This is a dark time, both literally and figuratively.

But you know what they say about the darkest hour.

Three days from now will be the darkest day of the year. The sun will rise at 7:23 AM EST and set at 4:50 PM EST. It will be the longest night.

Five years ago, I had just returned from Poland. It was one of the darkest times in my memory. I had left a place I loved and come back to a city I didn’t want to call home. And on 22 December, I bundled up early in my warmest clothes and drove my sputtering, 15-year-old Nissan Sentra up to Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Winter at Red Rocks
Winter at Red Rocks (Photo credit: mattsantomarco)

I gathered there with about fifty other people. Most of them had drums. And as the sky began to pale with the shy blush of the returning sun, the drums began to thrum. They started slow and sleepy, dimmed to a muted hush.

As the sky grew brighter over the Denver skyline and the flatlands of eastern Colorado beyond, the beat turned to a pulse. The cloud-dotted expanse above turned from jewel blue to pastel to the crystal white of milky quartz. The first golden rays of the newborn sun reached shining fingers over the frozen foothills, and the pulse quickened in both drums and veins until hands beat drum-skin and knees alike, lit with the fire of the world of day given first breath.

English: Christmas Dawn The sun rises late in ...
English: Christmas Dawn The sun rises late in midwinter this far north. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A month ago when we discussed the topic for this round of posts, I knew I would write a solstice post. I didn’t know just how much life would emulate the darkening celestial events. For many people, this time of year means deep pain. Loneliness and sadness, loss and grief.

But beyond the bustle of holidays and buying gifts, beyond seasonal depression or tragedy, the sun will return.

Whether you believe in the birth of the Christ child to a virgin or the festival of lights or if you track the sun’s path as it falls through a cross-shaped constellation before rising anew — whoever you worship or not at all, the sun will return.

It will warm the planet and birth new life. It will brighten the skies and nourish our bodies. The sun will return.

The darkest hour…

Well. You know the rest.