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!
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 →
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 →
No matter what the groundhog says, we are only halfway through winter. It is still 7 weeks to the vernal equinox and the astronomical start of spring. I have heard it said that there is no bad weather, only bad gear. These people have clearly never dealt with -55°F windchill.
Like most Minnesotans, I have multiples of all my winter outerwear: parkas, boots, hats, and gloves. I even have a sense of the temperature rating of my socks. You do not wear the same ones in 20°F as you do in -20°F. All cold climate residents will tell you, layering is the key to staying warm. Continue reading →