A Candle on Thin Ice
A votive candle in a drinking glass reflects on the ice and marks the edge of the safe area on a frozen pond.
When the winter is cold enough and the ice freezes thickly enough for safe skating, we gather at Wingfield Pines for a day and night of winter fun. The site is a conservation area that was once a golf course, and the ponds are shallow, part of the course, and usually freeze as smoothly as if a Zamboni had cleared them. Snow is swept, ice is tested by weight, and skates are pulled from closets, basements and attics. At night we light a bonfire, and to the right of the candle above you can see the orange bonfire and several lanterns in the trees. Of course it’s a Feast Day celebrate so warming libations are also in order. The ice is only solid enough to be safe by this time of the year, and even then it’s not safe enough every year. One memorable year we had had heavy rains and as this site is a flood plain it had flooded over a portion, then froze, and I remember skating under a full moon among the tall and silent pines that give the site its name.
February 2 is a significant day in the turn of the year. It is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, a cross-quarter day, the day the first stirrings of spring are felt in the Northern Hemisphere, the time when life really begins to return to the frozen earth. Difficult days are still ahead—the full moon in February isn’t called the “Hunger Moon” for nothing, as there is little nourishment in nature and winter stores may be depleted already—but the slow slid to spring and sprouting greens and longer, warmer days has truly begun.
It is also known as “Imbolc”, one of the eight sabats and four main festivals in Wiccan tradition, taken from the Welsh term for ewes beginning milk production, as apparently they do, as do other mammals who have gestated over the long winter months around this time. It is derived from “ewe’s-milk” in Welsh and variously from other Gaelic terms, but I haven’t ever found enough reliable information on others, such as “in the belly” from Old Irish, and it was often said that the weather for the remainder of winter until the equinox could be predicted by this day.
Also from Celtic traditions it is the celebration Brigid, or “Brigantia”, feast of the Celtic goddess of many things in in what I’ve found of her over the years, fields and fertility, and by extension human creativity, associated with Brigid, Ceres and Artemis, celebrated on this day as she enters the cycle of power as the season turns from fallow to early fruitfulness. It is the original festival of lights, for even though the solstice is six weeks past and the days are noticeably longer, those weeks were some of the most difficult to survive for early humans; at this point spring was inexorably beginning and they could celebrate the beginning of another season of fruitfulness.
And finally it is also “Candlemas”, the day for Mary’s ritual purification after the birth of her son, Jesus, and the day Jesus is presented at the temple, both in Jewish tradition, likely adopted from a myriad of pre-Christian customs on this date which involved carrying candles and celebrating the return of the light and so it is also the day that candles are blessed for the year, thus bringing together all the traditions of cleansing, reproduction and birth and the festival of lights after the most difficult part of winter.
I have more information about this significant day in “February 2: Not Just for Groundhogs, Well, Ever…”
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