Oh dear. It is February 2nd and it is cold with bright sun and a blue sky. This means a long and hard winter still to come.
Because today is Candlemas Day – based on the old Celtish Festival Imbolc or Imbolg, which was the old Festival of Lights, marking the time when the earth begins to wake up after its winter sleep.
It is said that if the weather is fine and frosty at the close of January and the beginning of February, there is more winter ahead than behind. This means that if it is nice on Candlemas Day you can expect six more weeks of yucky, winter weather, if it isn’t nice on Candlemas Day, the weather should get nicer. A sort of Catch 22 situation.
Candlemas is around the time that bears emerged from winter hibernation and they, wolves and badgers came out to inspect the weather. If they chose to return to their lairs on this day, it was interpreted as meaning severe weather would continue for another forty days at least. In the United States and Canada, it is thought that Candlemas evolved into Groundhog Day celebrated on the same date.
Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.
When the cat lies in the sun in February
She will creep behind the stove in March.
Of all the months of the year
Curse a fair February.
If it thunders in February, it will frost in April.
If February give much snow,
A fine summer it doth foreshow.
An ancient Scottish rhyme tells us:-
If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter to come and mair
If Candlemass day be wet and foul.
The half o’ winter gane at Yule.
Imbolc – (pronounced ‘im-olk’) the 2,000-year-old Celtic festival marks the birth and nursing of the spring lambs as a sign of the first stirrings of spring in the middle of winter, with fire and purification an essential aspect. The lighting of candles and fire represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the sun over the coming months.
Candlemas is a traditional Christian festival that commemorates the ritual purification of Mary forty days after the birth of her son Jesus. Forty days after the birth of a Jewish boy, it was the custom to take him to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to God by his thankful parents. So, on this day, Christians remember the ‘Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple’ or the ‘Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary’
Candlemas was also the day of the year when all the candles, that were to be used in the church during the coming year, were brought into church and a blessing was said over them – so it was the Festival Day (or ‘mass’) of the Candles. The candles were then distributed and carried in procession before the mass. The light of the candles is symbolic of Christ as the light of the world: all the candles should be made of beeswax.
Candlemas is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas. It used to be held that the Christmas season lasted for forty days: in the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at December 25, and Candlemas therefore falls the following February 2.
From Wikipedia: Like Christmas, Candlemas also has its secular side. In some prosperous manors of old England, this extension of Christmas-tide was marked by music, dancing, games and feasting: A “Lord Of Misrule,” or “abbot of unreason” was appointed, whose duty it was to play the part of a buffoon. In addition,
“The larder was filled with capons, hens, turkeys, geese, ducks, beef, mutton, pork, pies, puddings, nuts, plums, sugar and honey…. A glowing fire, made of great logs, the principal of which was termed the ‘Yule log,’ or Christmas block, which might be burnt till Candlemas eve, kept out the cold; and the abundance was shared by the lord’s tenants amid music, conjuring, riddles, hot-cockles, fool-plough, snap-dragon, jokes, laughter, repartees, forfeits, and dances.”
The eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people’s homes and churches. If all traces of berries, holly and so forth weren’t removed there would be a death among the congregation before the year was out.
A poem called “Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve” by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674) goes:-
Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
He then wrote a longer version:
DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe ;
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.
This is also the time when snowdrops make their appearance: in our garden they seem to have been growing under the snow as they are all up, just not in full flower yet. The Latin name for the snow drop is Galanthus, which means “milk flower” and they are also known as known as Candlemas bells, neatly linking into both festivals.
“The Snowdrop, in purest white array, First rears her head on Candlemas day.”
Incidentally the common name of snowdrop does not refer to ‘a drop’ of snow, it means drop as in eardrop – the old word for earring.
The snowdrop, appearing in February, is a symbol of hope. According to legend, the snowdrop became the symbol of hope when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. When Eve was about to give up hope that the cold winters would ever end, an angel appeared. She transformed some of the snowflakes into snowdrop flowers, proving that the winters do eventually give way to the spring.
I live in Yorkshire, on the South West, and nearby, at Marsden, near Huddersfield (do you know that dreadful limerick?
In a field in ‘uddersfield,
There was a cow as wouldn’t yield:
The reason that it wouldn’t yield?
It didn’t like its udders feeled.
I love this!!!)
anyway, I digress. Each year there is a great Festival held here to celebrate Imbolc. It is a real community event not just pagan festival, in which we all gather to boo old Jack Frost and welcome in the Green Man. All faiths and none.
Photo from http://news.bbc.co.uk
As well as the torchlight procession, there is a firework display and a “battle” between the mysterious figures of Jack Frost and The Green Man (see photos in article extract below from the Daily Mail).
(Photo from: The Huddersfield Daily Examiner www.examiner.co.uk)
http://theunhivedmind.com posted the following article from the Daily Mail.
“That’s one way to keep warm! Pagan sun worshippers stage fire festival in battle against winter
- Imbolc festival celebrates the approaching spring
- Pagan ceremony goes back 2,000 years
By Kerry Mcqueeney
UPDATED: 16:02, 6 February 2012
It must have seemed at odds with the cold weather sweeping most of the country.
As much of the UK shivered in freezing temperatures and grappled with snow and ice, here was a group of sun worshippers celebrating the approaching spring.
But these were no sun bathers, hoping to catch a few rays – this was the annual pagan ceremony of Imbolc.
The ceremony marks the half way point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
And it certainly made for a striking spectacle as the participants put on a dazzling fire show against a backdrop of a white, snowy landscape.
Hooded torchbearers led the winter procession through the snow near Marsden, Huddersfield, in northern England.
Chariot of fire: Torches are carried at the front of the procession
In driving snow, masked performers carried the torches – which represented the return of the sun – and used them in a symbolic battle against winter.
Beginning with the torchlit procession, the ceremony also boasted fireworks with the spectacle’s finale featuring Jack Frost being defeated by the mysterious figure, the Green Man.
The annual Imbolc festival, which is based on ancient traditions, is thought to have roots going back to the Celts 2,000 years ago.
It has been staged near Marsden for 20 years. Last year, it attracted about 2,000 people to take part in the festival and watch the spectacle.
End of Article.
Incidentally, Neopagans usually celebrate Imbolc on 1–2 February in the Northern Hemisphere and 1–2 August in the Southern Hemisphere.
Well, I did say that some funny old goings-on happened over here, didn’t I?