February is considered the least favorite month by many people. It’s easy for me to understand why. I live in Minnesota and the forecast high temperature this week is a negative number four of the next seven days. We in the Great White North are stuck indoors for both COVID-19 and the weather. But February is mid-winter. People have been restless this time of year for millennia.
In the United States, we celebrate a few February holidays. Groundhog Day is based on ancient European celebrations that involve weather divination used to predict the end of winter. Modern Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love and sex, but it was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 in honor of Saint Valentine of Rome, who died in AD 269 due to Roman persecution of Christians.
In February, two things have been traditionally on our minds: when is winter going to end and the fertility of livestock. Food, basically. Do we have enough stored food to last us to the end of winter and will the animals produce offspring for more food in the future? Continue reading →
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!
You might be thinking, “Why are you writing about Christmas? That ended two weeks ago.”
And you would be wrong. The Christmas holiday season ends on January 5,6, or 13 depending on your cultural and/or religious traditions. I define Christmastide as December 25 to January 5, the 12th night and the Feast of the Epiphany which runs into January 6, Three King’s Day which is widely celebrated in Latin America.
Yes, the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ is not just a Christmas carol about insane gift expectations. And with the shipping overload COVID-19 put on USPS, it’s a good thing. Gifts arrived during Christmastide, but maybe not by December 25. But no matter because gifts are not really the point.
Our end of year festivals have been celebrated in one way or another in the Northern Hemisphere for millennia, because of the winter solstice. It is not pagan to celebrate the return of the light. It is astronomy, the very physical reality of our planet’s axis. It is also a celebration of a life preserving harvest, of family and community before we all hibernate for winter and try not to starve. This perspective has been lost with the technological advances of the modern world. But if this year has taught me anything, it’s how quickly we can revert to an earlier way of life.
Now, that doesn’t mean they will arrive on December 25. The current USPS delivery load is estimated at 40% over normal and 19,000 of their workers are out due to COVID-19 symptoms or exposure. Those of us who respect the opinions of medical experts and the health department are not delivering packages ourselves as we stay home for the holiday and ship instead. It’s a stressful time to be working at the post office.
But still, your Christmas gifts are not late. Christmas is actually a twelve-day festival called Christmastide which begins December 25 and ends January 6. In fact in Latin America, the day to exchange gifts is the Epiphany, the commemoration of the visit of the Magi to the Christ child and the offering of their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
That last one, myrrh is an embalming oil. Whether you believe in COVID-19 or not, there are 400,000+ more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, the largest yearly increase since 1919 and the Spanish Flu. I will ask the question to the naysayers again: if you include total deaths together regardless of cause, what exactly explains the increase? Continue reading →
I write this at my dining room table, a custom built 8-foot, 250+ pound, white oak farm table, so new the clear coat has not cured yet. It arrived only two weeks ago, just in time for a Thanksgiving feast that will not happen.
For years, I hosted ‘Wayfarers Thanksgiving’, a dinner party for ‘orphans’, for those of us who left our places of origin for opportunities in the Twin Cities and had no family to spend the holiday with. I was in a one-bedroom apartment with a view of an alley and no dining room table. We packed in the living room around a coffee table and sat on paisley mustard pillows suitable for outdoor furniture.
I have my first home now, a condo with a fireplace, and a dining room big enough to host such a party. But there is no party, only dinner for two in the sunroom. I cannot risk COVID-19. It’s not for my sake, but for all the vulnerable adults in my life. I would survive but I cannot risk spreading it first, second, or third hand to others. I know everyone is sick of hearing about it, but COVID-19 isn’t over just because you’re bored with it.
What I wanted for Christmas in the past was my own home, with my own tree, and my own children. I wanted my spouse. I wanted our life and traditions together. But like many, the American Dream of hearth and home passed me by. I never married therefore never divorced but had 15 years solid of long-term relationships before 10 years of single life. I spent many years single at Christmas.
And what I wanted for Christmas as a single professional was time off. Real time off and peace. To get away from the daily grind and get some real writing done. I wanted resolution of personal tragedy, release from all the hangs on and drags on, from regret. I wanted a solid plan for the challenges of the coming new year. What is Christmas about if not hope in the midst of darkest night? Continue reading →
It doesn’t help that the jet stream often covers our state in a deep blue-purple swath or that International Falls actually went to court for the official trademark title: “Icebox of America”. Yes, by some people’s calendar, winter lasts six months here.
By the astronomical calendar, the winter solstice will occur at 10:19pm Central Time on December 21, 2019. This means in very real planetary terms that the South Pole of the earth is tilted toward the Sun and the Sun will be at its southernmost position in our sky, the Tropic of Capricorn.
But for those of us living in Minneapolis on the 45th northern parallel, which is halfway between the North Pole and the equator, winter has already arrived. As of Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport measured 9.2 inches of snow. We got an additional 2 inches last night and they expect another 4+ inches of snow tonight. Continue reading →
It’s OK to serve pre-prepped bake in the bag frozen turkey this Thanksgiving.
I am talking to the cooks now. If you have never run the gauntlet that is cooking Thanksgiving dinner or if stove top stuffing with brown and serve sausage is your heirloom family recipe, you can skip the rest of this blog post.
But if you really cook…
If you would prefer a fresh turkey from the butcher (if you could afford it)…
If you intentionally buy overlarge birds specifically for leftovers…
If you inject or marinate or brine your turkey with a concoction of your own special design… Continue reading →
February is the heart of winter and the Feast of Saint Valentine is less than a week away. I have heard Valentine’s Day referred to as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’, but it has been observed for over 1,500 years. Valentinus, or St. Valentine to us English speakers, was martyred (beheaded) on February 14, 269 for marrying Christians in Rome.
This might explain why he is the patron saint of such seemingly unrelated subjects as affianced couples, against fainting, beekeepers, happy marriages, love, plague, and epilepsy. Think about it. Does falling in love not make one heave and become light headed? Are we not plagued by obsessive thoughts of our beloved? And how much does unrequited love sting us to the marrow? Continue reading →
My father was a poor kid. Born in the 30’s, he grew up in the rough part of town and lived through the Great Depression and WWII. My grandmother was a single mom with four children for much of my father’s childhood, a time when there was a lot of shame, condemnation, and little support for that circumstance.
The local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, ran a toy drive during the Christmas season during those years. It was a charity of gently used toys collected then given new homes, distributed to disadvantage children. My father was a recipient of those toys. Continue reading →