1st February is Imbolc, one of the four Celtic festivals lying between the equinoxes and solstices that divide up the year. These were primarily agricultural festivals. Imbolc saw the beginnings of new life with the start of the lambing season. Beltane (1st May) was the beginning of summer when the livestock were moved to upland pasture and were driven between two fires to purify them from disease. Lugnasad (1st August) was the central point of the harvest celebrations when the grain was brought in for safe storage. And Samhain (1st Nov) was the end of the farming year when the livestock were brought inside.
Because the farming cycle of the year was based around the seasons of the sun, so too were other activities such as social gatherings, marriage and legal agreements. What can we learn from the festival of Imbolc that might be relevant to us now?
Imbolc is the beginning of new life, the return of the sun’s energy, the sap rising in plants, the source of growth and creativity. For the Celts this energy was represented by the appearance of the maiden goddess Brigid which is why the church now celebrates Candlemass on 2nd February, relating to the Virgin Mary. Brigid is associated with springs and wells, and with poetry and song, so this is a good time to enjoy either. I can find the winter difficult so it helps to remind myself at the start of February that new life is on its way.
How good that the most challenging month is the shortest of the year, to hurry us towards March and the coming of spring and sunshine and Easter and revelations and new growth and life and abundance. Goodbye February, thank you for cushioning the winter for us, for being the one to welcome crocuses and catkins, and to allow new buds to grow subtly and subversively, and to tease more of the light out of the winter sky, drawing the sun back again with your string of promise.
Thank you for Valentines and pancakes, and for the hard clay earth waking up from the cold. There is a bee buzzing, you are letting in the workers of summer. The grey skies are like the mother of pearl lining of living shells, hiding secret growth. And the carpet of brown leaves is broken by merry shoots of green weeds and wild things that are always the first to show. Soon we will have bluebells. Soon the sun will choose our side as his preferred companion and the evenings will unfurl into glad day.
But the buzz isn’t here yet, the busy explosion of life under a newborn sun-season. February is still a season of peace, like a mother who rises before dawn and prepares the home while the children are still abed.