Were you looking forward to Groundhog Day? I never take it too seriously, because no matter what the groundhog sees on February 2nd, winter in North Idaho will last as long as it pleases, usually between six and nine months. Kidding! Kind of. I might not be 100% in the #neversummer camp, but I do like my winters, and the snowier the better (otherwise, what’s the point?). Recently, though, I’ve become intrigued by the origins of Groundhog Day, when I realized it coincided with the pagan holiday Imbolc / Imbolg, or Brigid’s Day. It’s also known as Candlemas or the Festival of Lights. No matter what we call it, it is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and was historically considered a powerful time of renewal and potential.
The most accepted etymology of the word Imbolc / Imbolg gives its meaning as “in the belly” or “of milk,” which refers to the stirrings of life in the womb of Mother Earth, or of more prosaic creatures like ewes. This time is notable as the beginning of the lactation of sheep and cattle (lambing season) and was extremely important for the Celts, as their society was heavily dependent on farming and dairy production. You might not be able to see spring yet, but the seeds are starting to germinate.
The fertility goddess Brigid has many aspects and goes by many names; she is Saint Brigid / Brigit to the Catholic Church, and as Brid or “Bride,” lends her patronage to women about to be married. Some ancient customs to honor and welcome Brigid include making her a bed and leaving her food and drink, as well as making Brigid’s crosses and dolls or pouring milk or cream into the earth. Lambing season begins, and hearth and home are celebrated, while the lighting of fires and candles represents purification and the return of the sun. Ritual cleansing is traditional, so this is an ideal time for spring cleaning! Or a makeover :)
Humans have been trying to predict the end of winter for ages: “if Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year”* (an old British rhyme). But if you have a hard time seeing a groundhog as a reliable predictor of future weather patterns, there’s no need to rely on an overgrown rodent to lend meaning to this time of year. As long as winter may seem, and no matter what you believe, Punxsutawney Phil isn’t the only reason to celebrate the beginning of February!
Vanessa Velez - Collection Development Librarian
- Celebrate the Earth : a year of holidays in the pagan tradition by Laurie Cabot with Jean Mills (299 Cab 1994)
- The witches’ sabbats* by Mike Nichols (OverDrive)
- Brigid : history, mystery, and magick of the Celtic goddess by Courtney Weber (Hoopla)