Mid-Winter Observances

Here we are, more or less  half-way through to spring, waiting to see whether a rodent peeks out and perceives its shadow, and pretending to believe in the rodent’s effect on the length of winter. As February swings into view, we find ourselves a little desperate for clues to life outside the drabs of winter.

I see a few signs of wakening in the world. Here is the youngest of leaves, not yet unfurled, the very first sign of life in the

gooseberry cuttings made in early winter.

And these are narcissus bulbs pushing bravely into the chill.

Yellowcat finds the odd moment in the sun, though the sun is fugitive and unreliable:

It has always seemed illogical to me that the groundhog curses us with a long cold season if the weather on February 2 is fair, and conversely, if the day were foul, we might rejoice in the assurance that mild days will follow. Recently, however, I read an account of Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festivity that takes place (how coincidentally) at the same time as our silly Groundhog Day. Scratch a most minor holiday and you will often find a seasonal ritual behind it.

February: the gloomiest of months, it seems. Not yet spring, yet not quite winter still, it is gray, damp, and hopeless. It is the least favored of the months. Note that the beginning of February falls at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Such a position in the calendar must be observed in some way. Give us a cause for frivolling! Let’s light some candles! Let’s see what the weather has in mind.

Imbolc is a festival of northern hemisphere agrarian people. No matter what the weather on the day of Imbolc, the fact is, the sun has done its sitting still for winter and is edging toward spring. In the hope of a fruitful season coming on, folks look for indications of the farm year to come. At home by the hearth, if indications are right, bright fires are indulged, and lights in the home. Traditionally, snakes come from their  holes on this day, and badgers from their burrows. And, just so, they may tell us what to expect in the next weeks.

As with our bastard version, Groundhog Day, the rule is, should the badger see his shadow (as to the snakes, I cannot say; are they tall enough to have a shadow on a day in February?), the oracle says winter will be another six weeks longer.

Is there sense in this? Only if you also know that on this day the Hag Cailleach comes out from her hut and has a look around. She intends to gather her firewood for the rest of the winter. I suppose it depends on her mood whether she decides on a long miserable season or a brief, hopeful one. If she favors extended misery, she’ll arrange a good day for wood gathering: a sunny imbolc day gives her plenty of time to bring in her stores before sunset. On the other hand, if she looks favorably on farmers and spring days, she won’t need so much wood to get her through, and the day might as well be gloomy and chill.

There you have it, my children. The truth of prediction based on groundhogs.

May your Groundhog Day be clouded and drear.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 9:54 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m afraid I have to disagree. It all originated with Pogo, who used to sing “Forsooth, forsooth, Today is February the Tooth!””

    • I stand corrected. (How could I have missed that?)


  2. Your weather couldn’t be much more dreary than ours. But yes, the daffodil spears are pushing through, and a few courageous birds are tuning up. Not long now to the real spring.

    (Although, what with the Ravelympics and Sock Madness, neither you nor I will have much time to enjoy it!)

    • Hi, Jo! There is always time for the real spring. Time for knitting and time for spring!


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