Just when we thought it was safe to go outside again
along comes February to remind us that winter is not done with us yet. Most of the country has been hit by some seriously cold, wintry weather. It’s hard to compare to places that are experiencing subzero temperatures but, even here on the Olympic Peninsula, we’re feeling the freeze.
It started Sunday morning. We woke up to big drops of slushy rain that briefly turned to snow before stopping. When the snow started falling again the feeling was one more of disappointment than excitement; it wasn’t sticking because of the morning’s rain! We put away our thoughts of sledding and snow angels and enjoyed it anyways. How pretty it looked as it fell and swirled through the air before disappearing on the wet ground! This went on for most of the morning but, by noon the snow was beginning to stick. Then, for the rest of the day, our world turned white before giving way to night.
Fade to Black
This was the view from my kitchen window. The snow made everything look so perfect. You couldn’t see the weeds but, every little branch and leaf became more pronounced. It was a magical moment for this gardener…
…but now, the end of the week is approaching and the snow and freezing temperatures have remained. I haven’t been able to work all week and that “magical moment” feeling is feeling less magical as the days go by. It’s funny to think that a couple of weeks ago everyone was commenting on how it felt like spring was just around the corner. I was hopeful too, but over the years I’ve started to recognize it as that familiar “January feeling”. Now that it’s February I’m asking that question from time immemorial, How much longer?
One Year, One Revolution
Most people have heard of the solstices and equinoxes. These are the four astronomical events that divide our year into the four seasons. They’re called the Quarter Days; each one marking a specific point on our orbital path around the sun. The midpoints between a solstice and equinox are called the Cross-Quarter Days. These days have cultural and agricultural significance and are a time for festivals and celebrations. The most well known cross-quarter day that has survived Christianization relatively intact is Halloween (Samhain). A lesser known cross-quarter day, the first one of the year, happens during the first week of February. It is called Imbolc, or Brigid’s Day.
My name is Bridget.
I grew up not knowing about the roots of my name. When we’d look it up in the name books it would just say “Strength” and its roots were Celtic. That was OK, it seemed to describe me. I’ve always been physically strong and I am a little bit Irish. My first clue that there was something more to my name happened at an old mall with my mom. There was a machine that you’d type your name into and out would pop a piece of paper with a list of its different versions. I was expecting the usual extra t’s and e’s that everyone was always trying to add to my name. What came out instead was a piece of paper that was filled from top to bottom with all of the different versions of my name. I remember feeling embarrassed that there were so many more names than what anyone else had. Some struck me as funny: Biddy and Bride?
That was all I knew until about twenty years ago. My sister Dawn started sending me pictures of Brigid the fire goddess (cool!), a cross (thanks for all the stuff!) and then years later that led to conversations about Brigid’s Day. It’s important to remember that this took place before I had the internet. It was a time when information would slowly. trickle. in.
Out with the Old and in with the New
The more I’ve learned about Imbolc the more I understand why it has been all but forgotten in our modern world. This ancient Celtic festival celebrates the fire goddess, Brigid in her maiden form. Imbolg in Old Irish translates to “in the belly”. This is a reference to the start of spring when nature is starting to show signs of “expecting”. The festival of Imbolc centers around the hearth and home and includes activities such as making Brigid dolls, making a Brigid cross, lighting candles and spring cleaning! These rituals were performed to welcome spring, the return of the sun and bring blessings of fertility to your family, land and animals. What’s not to love?
“Come to my house and join us for the Brigid Festivities. We’re going to clean the windows and scrub the floors! Wait, come back! Where are you going?!”
A Time for Divination or
finally an answer to the question, “How much longer?”
Imbolc was also a day to read omens and predict what the new year might bring. The most important prediction to make was the year’s weather. It makes sense, what else do people talk about after being cooped up all winter? Groundhog Day is a modern day remnant of this Imbolc practice. There’s an old Irish folk story about a mean creature called the Cailleach who, if the weather was good, would spend Imbolc collecting firewood and the winter would last longer. If the day was wet and miserable the Cailleach would go back to sleep instead and the winter would soon be over. Here in Port Townsend, the weather was cloudy and windy, but not too cold. What would you predict for the weather this year? I don’t know what to think, so, I’ll just go back to bed!