Welcome to February. Here is your printable Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month, and we begin straightaway this February First with the celebration of Imbolc and St. Brigid’s Day, both of them signs of spring, for even in the dead of winter, we find ourselves here in the Northern Hemisphere just about forty days past the Midwinter solstice. It is a cross quarter day: in the wheel of the year, the cross quarter days mark the midpoints between solstices and equinoxes, and so yes: not only are we about forty days past the Midwinter solstice, but we are also forty days, more or less, away from the vernal equinox. Slowly, light has been increasing, and it will continue to do so all the way to the Midsummer solstice in June. It is the constant rearrange of this old earth, and Brigid is our bridge from winter to spring. She bids us welcome, though the steps be tentative, for the bridge may yet be icy and treacherous. So be it. We take that step, for there is no other choice. Our planet, on its course around the sun, dictates our path.
And tonight, St. Brigid’s Day becomes Candlemas Eve, and this is an important night if you have been following along on our Slow Christmas journey. If you have, you’d have used the Advent season to prepare for Christmas, and you would have certainly celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany. And if you, like us, still have the Christmas tree and garland in your home, tonight is the night it should be removed. You may do what you wish, of course, but Robert Herrick, our old reliable 17th century Book of Days poet, reminds us of the consequences of not removing these last vestiges of Christmas greenery tonight in his poem “Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve”:
Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.
I, for one, need no goblins running amuck in my home, so here, we pay heed to Mr. Herrick’s advice. Aside from the goblins, though, leaving Christmas greenery up beyond this date comes with the risk of setting us out of step with the tides of the year. You might replace the garland and the tree with new greenery, for this is the day to fashion a St. Brigid’s cross, which looks a bit like a four-spoked wheel, of rushes or reeds. All signs now point toward spring, toward increasing light, toward rebirth.
Even the Church acknowledges this: Candlemas on the Second of February (tomorrow) is the day that candles are blessed in the church, but it is also known as Purification Day, which harkens back to an old Hebrew tradition: forty days after the birth of a son, women would go to the temple to be purified. And there it is again: renewal. And so Mary did this, for it was her tradition, and when she did, it was there at the temple that she and her infant child ran into the elders Simeon and Anna, who recognized the child as “the Light of the World.” This is the basis for the blessing of candles on this day, and the day’s lovely name, which is even more beautiful in other languages: la Candelaria in Spanish, la Chandeleur in French. In France, the traditional evening meal for la Chandeleur is crêpes. In Mexico, la Candelaria is a night for tamales and hot chocolate, while the procession and celebration in Puno, Peru, is typically so big, it rivals that of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. And while the First of February is the night that all remaining Yuletide greenery is removed from the home, tradition would have us keep nativity scenes up through Candlemas, the Second of February. And at sunset on Candlemas, we’ll go through the house, through every room, lighting every lamp, even for just a few minutes. My favorite song for the day is an old carol called “Jesus, the Light of the World.” Is it a carol for Candlemas? Who knows. Certainly the words echo those of Simeon and Anna, the elders in the temple, so as for me, I say it is.
And so tonight we will thank our Christmas tree and garland for their presence with us all through Christmas, and then quietly carry them out the back door and into a quiet corner of the backyard, returning to nature what is hers. We’ll store these things there, and they will become part of the habitat that is our yard, a bit of fir and cedar amongst the bamboo and the palms and grasses… and then when December comes around again, on the longest night, we will use what is left of the tree as fuel for our Midwinter solstice fire as we welcome down the stars and welcome back the light. I love this bit of ceremony. For us, it connects one Christmas to the next, as it sends Father Christmas off each year with respect and dignity.
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Our cover star for this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar is an 1889 painting that is officially untitled, but known also as “Oranges in Tissue with Vase.” It’s orange harvest season here in Florida. The painting, which is oil on canvas, is by Alberta Binford McCloskey, and comes to us via Wikimedia Commons.