“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” ~ Proverb
February is named for the word Februa
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.
February: A month for purification and love.
In ancient Greece and Italy, this was a rainy time of year that gave people a chance to wash and purify themselves. The name Februa, is associated with anything used to purify, including wool, brooms, pine boughs, water etc…
Februa, became the Roman God of purification and the dead. Februa, is also known as the Greek God, Hades or the Celtic God, Dis Pater. This concept of purification and death can be traced to the ancient love story and burial practices of the Egyptian Gods Isis and Osiris. Eventually, Februalia, became a month-long celebration of purification and atonement.
February 14th, originally began as a lunar holiday to honor the primordial Mother Goddess, on the eve of the full moon. She was known as Gaia, Tera Mater, Cybelle, Juno, etc… Juno, became the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. A special purification celebration followed the next day, which fell in the middle of this lunar cycle.
Shortly after 753 BC, the Feast of Lupercalia, replaced this full moon celebration in Februalia. Lupercalia is derived from the word lupus, which is Latin for wolf. This date also marks the founding of Rome.
According to legend, the story of Romulus and Remus begins when they were found as infants abandoned in the woods. Lupercal, a she-wolf, nursed them with her milk. Faunus, also known as Pan, represents the “all” found in nature, who is thought to have taught the infants how to forage in the woods. In this legend, he is sometimes referred to as, Lupercus “he who wards off the wolf”. The twins were later discovered by a shepard, who named them Romulus and Remus. Eventually they went back to the sacred cave, where Lupercal had nursed them. In her honor they created a city of their own, eventually naming it Roma after Romulus.
Lupercalia was held on February 15th, as a festival of purification and fertility in honor of Lupercal. Each year the Luperci priests gathered at her cave. They planted a fig tree at the entrance to the cave to signify the gifts of the forests. Vestal virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first grains of the previous years harvest and offered them to the fig tree.
Two naked young men (symbolic of Romulus and Remus), assisted by the Vestal Virgins, sacrificed a dog (symbolic of the wolf/loyalty) and a goat (symbolic of Pan/Fauna/nature) at the site. The blood was smeared on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped away with wool (symbolic of purification) dipped in milk (symbolic of love). The youths wore loincloths made from the skin of the goat and led groups of Lupercai priests around the base of the hills of Rome. The occasion was happy and festive. As they ran about the city, the young men lightly tapped women along the way with strips of the goat hide. This act supposedly provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility.
In 713 BC, February, became an official month in the original Roman lunar calendar. February 14th, became the date that signaled the Eve of the Full Moon.
When the Julian calendar was created in 46 BC, the lunar calendar was replaced with a solar calendar and February became the month that could be shortened from 28 – 23 days. Thus making it the only month that had the possibility of having no full moon at all. Lupercalia continued to be celebrated on February 15th, regardless of the full moon.
Mark Anthony, chose the Lupercalia festival, in 44BC, as the proper time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar. Roman armies took the Lupercalia customs with them, as they invaded France and Britain.
During this time young boys and girls created a custom that began on February 14th, the Eve of the Festival of Lupercalia. The girl’s names were written on pieces of paper and inserted into jars. Each boy then drew a girl’s name from the jar becoming partners throughout the Festival. After being paired, the children would often continue to see each other, fall in love and eventually get married.
Around 260 AD, Emperor Claudius II, of Rome, was having a difficult time recruiting quality men as soldiers. He believed that marriage made the men weak. So he issued an edict forbidding marriage. The ban on marriage was a great shock to the Romans.
An early Christian priest, named Valentine, felt sorry for the young lovers who gave up all hopes of being united in marriage. When a couple came to him, seeking to be married, Valentine secretly obliged. Valentine became the friend of lovers in every district of Rome. Valentine refused to recognize the Roman Gods. This angered Claudius II, who ordered the execution of Valentine on February 14th, 270 AD.
February 14th, unofficially became a day for lovers and Valentine became its Patron Saint. It continued to be observed, in secret, by young Romans who offered handwritten greetings of affection, known as Valentines, to the women they admired.
In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius replaced the festival of Lupercalia, with a new church sanctioned holiday.
He declared St. Valentine, as the Patron Saint of Lovers, who would be honored at the new festival of St. Valentines Day, on February 14th. The church also replaced the old lottery with a lottery of Saints. Instead of pulling girls and boys names, young people were asked to pull the name of a Saint, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that Saint. The Feast of St. Valentine and the Saint lottery lasted for a couple hundred years, but the church just couldn’t rid the Roman’s love of Lupercalia.
St. Valentine soon became one of the most popular Saints in England and France. The association of Valentine’s Day with romance and courtship grew through the Middle Ages. During the days of chivalry, the single’s lottery became popular again. The names of English maidens and bachelors were put into a box and drawn out in pairs. The couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man’s valentine for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and it was his duty to attend and protect her. The ancient custom of drawing names on the 14th of February was considered a good omen for love.
By the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging hand-made cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England. Hand-made valentine cards were made of lace and ribbons, featuring cupids and hearts. They were handed to the man or woman one loved. This tradition eventually spread to the American colonies.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a major American holiday. According to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are Valentines.
How Leap Year came to be
When the Roman Senate named the month of August after Augustus Caesar, it also decided that since Julius’s month, July, had 31 days, Augustus’s month should equal it: under the Julian calendar, the months alternated evenly between 30 and 31 days (with the exception of February with 29), which made August 30 days long. So, instead of August having a mere 30 days, it was lengthened to 31, (they shortened February to 28) preventing anyone from claiming that Emperor Augustus was saddled with an inferior month.