I’d usually be telling you about us preparing the first of this year’s bonfires as we celebrate Imbolc, Bridgid’s Day and Candlemas and how nature is beginning to show tentative signs of new growth. However we are in Scotland, in the Cairngorms, and have just experienced winter Storm Malik and Storm Corrie and find ourselves in a place of ice, snow and fallen trees. It reminds us that although our seasonal celebrations are given dates sometimes it’s more about place and what is being experienced there.
Certainly we know spring travels up our country as does the summer in a south/north direction and autumn and winter seem to be experienced in the north first. Here amongst Scotland’s mountains it feels that winter still truly has its grip. But then again I’ve always thought we need to use our own observances and guidelines as to when and how we celebrate nature and not be leashed to dates and instead to use them as guidelines to remind us that changes will be taking place.
Another good example of us having a bit of variation in our annual celebrations is in regards to taking down our Yuletide decorations down. Many people have felt the need to at least leave the fairy lights up this year as they have continued to give a much needed lift and twinkle in dark January and especially after what we have all been through. I was happy to inform all that felt this way that there is wiggle room about taking our decorations down as Candlemas was the traditional time until it was decided that workers, too much full of revelry because of keeping decorations up, needed a date to get them back in work mode and so twelfth night or the Epiphany became the time to take them down, with the added measure that bad luck would befall you for good measure to ensure compliance. There is no reason that we can’t dip in and out of the past country calendar if it makes us feel better and we can even follow the ‘old calendar’ meaning everything is 11 days after - so old Candlemas would be on 12th/13th Feb ! Of course this can get a little confusing! Farmers of the past used their eyes, the feel, sounds and smells of the land to know when it is time to plant and to harvest. They would touch the earth to feel if it had warmth (some sat on it with a bare bottom !) and at harvest they would bite the corn to see if it was full of flour. This made them attuned to the year and nature. I think being more attuned to nature is something we all aspire to now as we feel disconnected to this giver of our well-being.
People have always looked for the first signs of spring as winter seems to stretch its cold, dark grip for so long. Snowdrops are really very much a winter flower but their emergence seems to signify such hope and resilience. But we have to be mindful that February can often be the coldest month. Of course our climate is now changing so many perceptions of what the temperature should be.
The Scottish poet George Wilson wrote a poem ‘The origin of the snowdrop. In it he finished with;
"And thus the snowdrop, like the bow That spans the cloudy sky, Becomes a symbol whence we know That brighter days are nigh.’’
I think this sums up the snowdrop that it makes us look forward to the promise of springtime even if it’s not yet here. That will do for now, just being reminded the wheel of the year is turning and we are now moving away from winter.
The Oyster Catcher are known in Ireland as ‘Gille Brighde’ meaning servants of the bride. This was because they are said to make their first appearance on St. Bridgid’s day/Imbolc. It is said they bring the spring with them.
Although we won’t have our garden bonfire this year to celebrate the coming of February we will light a candle to mark the returning light and warmth and the promise that Imbolc brings, whilst sitting by an open fire in our holiday hotel talking about how we can prepare ourselves for the coming months and look forward towards springtime.
Wherever you are and whenever you choose to mark this time of the year please remember the old ways and be guided by them and the respect for nature they imbue but don’t be slaves to dates instead use your intuition and personal observations and mark the time in a way that makes you happy x
Brightest Blessings to you all x