Candlemas begins at sundown tonight. It’s known by other names: Imbolc and Groundhog’s Day, to name two. Candlemas is one of the cross-quarter days that mark the yearly cycle, along with Beltane (May Day), Lammas (August 1), and Samhain (November 1). The cross-quarter days are midpoints between solstices and equinoxes, which are the quarter days of the year. Candlemas falls between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.
Imbolc was sacred to Brigid, a Celtic triple-goddess who later morphed into a Christian saint. When Christianity largely supplanted paganism in Celtic lands, pagan Imbolc transformed into Christian Candlemas. The central themes remained the same, however: celebrating the return of the Light (whether your frame of reference is the Sun or Christ) with the element of fire, new beginnings, the planting of seeds. Groundhog’s Day, with its tradition of inverse weather prediction (good weather = more winter), has ancient roots in folkloric tradition:
If Candlemas bring snow and rain, winter won’t come again.
If Candlemas be clear and bright, winter will have another flight.
I started marking the quarter days and cross-quarter days some years ago, when my interest in gardening (which follows a yearly cycle), combined with my interest in comparative religious thought. Imbuing my mundane gardening and food preservation tasks with a sense of the sacred made my everday experiences more meaningful.
To a gardener, the time around the beginning of February is important because, at least in temperate Northern latitudes, the days lengthen to about 10 hours. At that point in the year, we can begin to work the soil. When I lived in Virginia and Candlemas came around, I knew it was time to pull out last year’s gardening notebook, take note of what went well and what didn’t, plan out this year’s garden, and order seeds and supplies. If I planned well at Candlemas, I’d set the stage for a good year in the garden: by the Equinox, I’d have planted the seeds for early spring greens and peas, and I’d have started indoors the tomatoes and peppers. Candlemas was the beginning of spring to me, whereas the Vernal Equinox was a midpoint in the season.
Alas, it’s different out here on my windswept mountainside. Plant life here, wisely, stays underground until after May Day. I wouldn’t consider planting a thing until after Mother’s Day, sometimes Memorial Day. Complicating the short growing season here, I also have to contend with marauding mule deer. What manages to grow often is mowed down in short order by the local deer population. So, a few years ago, I switched from vegetable gardening to growing mostly perinneal culinary herbs. Without the need to plan a garden each February, my Candlemas observation has changed.
These days, rather than focusing on real seed-planting, I think about planting the seeds for another year of creativity. This is the time when I think about what creative pursuits I’d like to accomplish and what seeds must be planted now in order to accomplish those goals. This year, I’m trying to be better about writing more regularly. I’d also like to do more knitwear design and pattern writing. I want to be better about growing and preserving herbs. Also, I’m planning to give certain areas of our house a bit of a facelift, in recognition of one son’s moving on to college, and the other son’s growing into a teenager.
I’m planting the seeds for those endeavors now. I’m setting aside more time to write. I’m being more diligent in taking notes on the patterns I’m developing so that they’re easier to get ready to publish. I’m trying out new techniques that may wind up in my designs. I’m experimenting with charting software.
On the gardening front, I’m considering how I’ll make the time to dry and freeze herbs and make pestos this summer. For the house, I’m planning to change out some furniture, put up new window treatments, and do some cleaning out and organizing.
I may not be planting seeds in the belly of the Earth just yet, but I am planting seeds in my creative self that I hope will take root and grow over the coming year.