“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~ Proverb
Februa means to clean, purify and prepare. Ancient celtic cultures celebrated the beginning of February with Imbolc, “the belly of the mother”, which signaled a time when the seeds planted in Mother Earth were beginning to open and lambs began lactating.
The festival of Brigit, the Goddess who “brings back the light”, represented the growing Sun that warmed the ground. Together they remind us that new life is stirring within.
Imbolc/Candlemas/Ground Hog Day - Feb 2nd (Northern Hemisphere)
Mid-winter – a time of growing light, prophecy & purification
Imbolc and Candlemas occur at a period between the December Winter Solstice and the March Spring Equinox, traditionally marking that time of the year as winter’s “halfway point” while waiting for the spring. This period is seen as the time of the “bringing of the light” or the “growing of the light”. In the northern hemisphere the sun is growing as the days become longer, reaching its full potential on the Summer Solstice in June.
The word Imbolc refers to the lactation of the ewes, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring, especially the growing light of the sun. Irish farmers welcomed back the light on, St. Brigit’s Day.
Brigit or Brighid is the Goddess of healing, arts and crafts, poetry, and inspired wisdom. She is the Goddess of fire, the hearth and energy. As the Goddess of fertility she is said to lean over every cradle to protect the innocence of the soul.
Symbols of Imbolc
Fresh churned butter to spread on cake or bread served with milk is a way to celebrate the return of the Brighid the bringer of bounty and light.
Candles or oil lamps are also lit to symbolize the light.
The Christian Traditions of Candlemas
The Catholic Church combined this festival by converting it into the celebration of Candlemas. Candles would be lit to symbolize the coming of the light and it is for this reason that it is called Candlemas. Candlemas is dedicated to the Virgin Mary with candlelight processions. Just as Brighid is seen as the light-bringer of the “sun”; Mother Mary is seen, by Christians, as the light-bringer of the “son” Jesus. Since Jesus’ birth was placed on Dec 25th, the original date of the Winter Solstice, this holiday flows with the traditional Celtic calendar.
Candlemas also celebrates the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.Many Catholic Christians believe that Jesus’ mother Mary presented him to God at the Temple in Jerusalem after observing a traditional Jewish 40-day period of purification (of mothers) following his birth. According to a New Testament gospel, a Jewish man named Simeon held the baby in his arms and said that he would be a light for the Gentiles (Luke 2:32).
Because of this event Candlemas is also known as the “Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple” in many eastern churches.
Symbols of Candlemas
Snowdrop flowers (galanthas nivalis) are also known as Candlemas Bells because they often bloom early in the year, even before Candlemas. Some varieties bloom all winter (in the northern hemisphere). It is also believed that these flowers purify a home.
Candles are lit during Candlemas to symbolize Jesus as the “light of the world”.
The connections to Groundhog Day
The festival of the growing light can also be traced to the Groundhog Day custom of February 2. According to folklore, the badger/groundhog comes out to test the weather in the United Kingdom. If the groundhog sees his shadow on this morning, it means there will be six more weeks of winter.
“This is the day of Brighid who will come up from the mound. For this is the time when the animal world begins to stir. From its winter sleep in the depths of the earth. Life and light is ushered in by Brighid, the Queen.”
“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
Ways to celebrate Imbolc
Light a candle to represent the light growing within you and around you
Have a bonfire with any leftover Christmas greens.
Bake a cake or loaf of bread spread with organic butter and served with a glass of milk to honor the nourishment you receive from mother earth.
Clean and purify your home and other sacred spaces.
Meditate upon what you would like to see grow in health and strength this year.