Groundhog Day or Candlemas? February 02 2017
In the mighty Celtic calendar, the year is marked by the two solstices and the two equinoxes. At the Winter Solstice, the days are the shortest of the year; at the Summer Solstice, the days are the longest of the year. At the Autumn Equinox and the Spring Equinox the days are exactly as long as the nights.
The days that mark the halfway mark between these four celestial events are traditionally named “cross-quarter days” as they are the between the quarters markers.
Today is one of those cross-quarter days. Some celebrate it as Ground hog day or the day when our hope of an end to winter might be divined by a groundhog. “Punxsutawney Phil,” from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, has been the official weather groundhog, marking this day since 1887. 2016 marks his 130th year of predicting, with 100% accuracy, whether or not winter will be done in six weeks or will continue beyond that six weeks. The legend is that Punxsutawney Phil has never died but continues predicting winter’s end by drinking the elixir of life each summer at Punxsutawney’s annual Groundhog picnic.
If Phil comes out of his groundhog home on a sunny day, he sees his shadow (of which he is evidently afraid) and heads back in to hibernate some more. This mans much more winter for all of us, not just for Punxsutawney Phil. If the day is cloudy and ol’ Phil does not see his shadow? In six weeks winter will be done. An early spring is then in store!
In the Druid and Christian traditions, the cross-quarter day on February 2nd is called Candlemas Day. Traditionally this day was reserved for preparing candles for the coming year – first for the whole village and then for the church – sort of a working festival!
There is a little round with words to help keep straight which weather means which:
When Candlemas Day is bright with sun;
Then Winter’s power has just begun –
But when Candlemas Day is dark with rain
Then Winter’s power is on the wane!
This day is a wonderful one on which to dip candles with your family. Though we do not need candles so urgently now with all of our electric lights, the sun that is gathered by the bees and the craft of dipping candles is a very warming, soothing activity. In Elizabeth Auer’s book, Creative Pathways, there are a number of suggestions of things to be modeled with beeswax, too. Not Candles, but full of sunshine!
Are you Irish? Then you might know that Candlemas Day, or Groundhog Day is also St. Brigid’s Day
Brid, on the first or second of February, collects kindling to warm the spring and to make her young again, as a cailleach-becoming-maiden.
Brigid (Brighid, Brigit, Brid, Bridie, Bridgette) invented the Irish tradition of keening or coaineadh. Brid herself keened the death of her son, Ruadán, and launched the art form of mourning the soul just passed onto the spiritual path with loving wailing that protects the deceased from usurping spirits during the transition.
February first or second is a good time to make “St. Brigit crosses." These invoke the North Star and evoke the pattern that the Big Dipper makes in the sky in the course of the year. As the night sky turns around the North Star, the Big Dipper turns through the seasonal year like the hands of a clock, only counter-clockwise.
Like the flaming might of the North Star, Brigit is the fire-keeper of that flame of life that mothers tend so that families do not freeze to death in winter. Her star shows the overlapping connection of families whose lineage is not broken prematurely because of trauma in the cold months. It’s in winter that Brigid becomes the cailleach, the old woman, who keens. On Imbolc (Groundhog Day) she collects her kindling to encourage the spring of regeneration and this renders her young again.
Children make St.Brigit crosses by weaving bits of straw into spiraling crosses that then become kindle on Imbolc for St. Brigid. If we take up the tradition, our minds focus meditatively on craft and we get through the last, long ,freezing days of winter, connecting our work to the stars. Our winter minds become then part of the great celestial sphere that turns and brings us spring – whatever the Groundhog might say!