Today’s a holiday. For some of us it’s Groundhog Day, and it’s good news; Punxsatawny Phil did not see his shadow, which means we’re on the home stretch winterwise. This is especially good news for the Midwest and East, currently very much in the grip of Old Man Winter.
For others of us it’s Candlemas, traditionally the day that the infant Jesus was presented at the temple, and recognized and celebrated by Anna and Simeon as the Messiah. In some traditions Candlemas marks the end of Epiphany. The name derives from the tradition of blessing beeswax candles on this day, for use throughout the year.
In non-christian and Celtic traditions the holiday is sometimes called Imbolc (a reference to the beginning of lambing season, spring, and the ewes coming into their milk) or St. Brigid’s day, and celebrated as the beginning of spring on the half way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
According to Wikipedia,
“The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits. Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.”
So–happy Groundhog day, Candlemas, St. Brigid’s day, or Imbolc.
Think there’s no connection? Think about the symbolic links. Imbolc is “traditionally a time of weather prognostication”–and we still consult Punxsatawny Phil and his peeps on this day. Imbolc celebrated the coming of the lambs–and Candlemas marks the first public acknowledgment of the coming of Jesus, the Lamb of God. The tradition of blessing candles to be used for religious purposes on this day is followed by Christians and non-christians alike.
The gods and saints nominally celebrated on this day might change; the symbolic message of the holiday remains the same: Light dispels darkness; spring follows winter; the life that sacrifices itself so we all might live renews itself each year, only to sacrifice itself anew. In the end, this is a day that celebrates not the hope of salvation, but the fact that even while winter still grips the land, the seeds of spring are growing under the snow. We need not wait until crocuses bloom to celebrate spring; we can celebrate it while the snow still flies.
And whether you are celebrating the annual birthing of the lambs and the miracle that brings milk to nurture the promise they represent–the deep magic of spring that happens in the heart of winter–or the presentation of the Christ child at the temple, and the first public realization of the presence of Emanuel, the deep meaning is the same: Though storms may rage; they will not last forever. Even now, the fragile, powerful beginnings of spring and salvation are on their way.