Tomorrow is February 1st.
What is your favorite month of the year? Only 2% of Americans will answer February, probably those who have a birthday that falls in the month or a strong affinity to Lunar New Year or Mardi Gras. I believe that February gets such a bad rap because it is the middle of winter. January has the residue of Christmas and New Year, March contains the first day of spring, but February is deep, cold, endless winter.
Enter the mid-winter festival.
In America, we call this Groundhog Day, Catholics refer to it as Candlemas, and for the ancient Celts, it was Imbolc. All celebrations for one reason or another but if we are honest, the fact that February 4th falls midway between the first day of winter (winter solstice) and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) is reason enough to celebrate. Astronomical winter in the Northern Hemisphere is half over!
Do you make fun of people who leave their Christmas lights up until February? Well, it turns out I am one of those people. And I will tell you why. My Christmas tree and other decorations came down at the end of Christmastide, January 6 at the Epiphany but the Christmas lights will come down at Candlemas, the 40th day and the conclusion of the Christmas–Epiphany season, on February 2nd.
Why? Have you noticed how bleak January is? We go from the most widely and wildly decorated month of the year (December) to nothing. Winter blues and cabin fever are both real things and in the age of COVID-19, we were already stir crazy before winter started.
My cheerful Christmas lights have continued to provide me with a little hope in the midst of this dreary season. When we had a significant snowfall on January 23, I was delighted to sit in my sunroom and write under the glow of my Christmas lights with the backdrop of the snow, muffling the noise of the city. One of my neighbors across the street fired up their artificial Christmas tree which was still in their window and put a yule log on their big screen TV!
And why the hell not?
The fact that winter is half over is well worth celebrating. February 2nd is the day it is traditionally celebrated. The reason for this is because Christmas was assigned the fixed date of December 25th by Pope Liberius in 354 AD. February 2nd is forty days later, a number of great significance in Christianity.
It’s also an easy date to remember- two, two; 02/02; the second day of the second month.
This day is known as Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ at the Temple. It was tradition to bring candles to Mass to be blessed for use throughout the year. And there is food involved! Traditionally, crepes are served in France and tamales are served in Mexico.
What was served in the United States?
Well, at one time it was groundhog meat. Not surprisingly the tradition of hunting groundhog didn’t catch on. But Groundhog Day has been celebrated in the USA since 1887. It is an extension of Badger Day in Germany, which is an extension of Candlemas. But other countries also held the tradition: the Irish had the hedgehog, the Scotts had a snake, the Ilse of Man had a large bird, and the ancient Celts had the Devine Hag of Imbolc.
All of it was about weather divination. In other words, when the hell is winter going to be over?
We were once an agrarian society and the planting of seeds and the fertility of sheep was very, very important to our survival. Ancient people were probably more anxious about the end of winter because starvation was a very real threat to their lives. The hope that winter was half over must have seen them through some very dark days and I am not talking about the early sunsets of winter.
If you are feeling down and out at the prospect of February 1st, if you think February is the worst month of the year, consider celebrating mid-winter in your own way. There are the biggies like Ground Hog Day, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, or Lunar New Year but there are plenty of ‘B-list holidays’- whether you are patriotic or religious or a Foodie.
Every week this month, I am going to write about the underrated ways we can celebrate mid-winter and maybe, just maybe I’ll beat the winter blahs without the aid of my Christmas Lights. Because frankly, whether Punxsutawney Phil sees the shadow or not, the vernal equinox (A.K.A first day of spring) is still six weeks away.
If you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.
Happy Groundhog Day everybody!
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2021
Photo Copyright © 2004 by April King, aka Marumari, donated to Wikipedia under the GFDL. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Groundhog-Standing2.jpg