So many of our modern holidays and festivals have their roots in ancient traditions. Christmas celebrations may include a crèche, decorated tree, stockings hung by the fire, and an Advent calendar counting the days until a jolly figure delivers us gifts via a reindeer powered sleigh. Many Christians mark Easter celebrations with a church service combined with a rabbit hiding colored eggs and baskets filled with treats. Our modern celebrations often merge these rituals so thoroughly that it is difficult to trace their origins.
The calendar tells us that February 2 is Groundhog Day. This is the day we look towards the predictive powers of the Groundhog to discern whether our winter is nearly through. What are the roots of this celebration?
February 2 marks the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. For ancient agrarian cultures, this came with the hope that the struggle of winter was coming to an end, and was a time to bless spring plantings and the awakening earth. Christian cultures marked this day as Candlemas, the day that Jesus was first brought to temple, 40 days after his birth. In the Middle Ages, Candlemas was marked with a church service to bless the candles used in the upcoming year, and homes were tidied to sweep away the winter gloom and make ready a space for new beginnings.
The weather on Candlemas was thought to predict the coming spring:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
And there was this German proverb:
The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day,
and, if he finds snow, walks abroad;
but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.
So both Groundhog Day and spring-cleaning have their roots in the ancient celebration of Candlemas.
In our Waldorf School, we celebrate Candlamas and its promise of spring and the return of the light. During the day, one-by-one, the children of each class dip candles for the upcoming year and they may recite the following verse.
Candle, candle burning bright
Winter’s halfway done tonight.
With a-glowing we are knowing
Spring will come again!
You might consider marking Candlemas at home with a candlelit meal. Or perhaps by sweeping out your hearth and lighting a new fire to provide light and warmth in these waning days of winter, and giving a fresh place for inspiration to grow.