February 3rd, 2024
Early February marks the cross-quarter, the midway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Over the centuries, folks have developed unique but related customs to honor the beginning of February. In studying the cross-quarter, I have arrived at a personal relationship to this time of year and the gestures that it bestows. Below, I have outlined my current understanding of this season and some variations of festival life.
Imbolc (celebrated February 1st) means “in the belly”, and this pagan festival acknowledges this pregnant and inward time of year. The Druids and Celts honor the Goddess Brigit, the protector of the Fire of Life, in the hopes that she will keep their families from freezing in the Winter. It is said that Brigit grows older toward Winter. Brigit Crosses are crafted from straw (kindling), and these invoke the North Star and mimic the counter-clockwise pattern that the Big Dipper makes in the sky in the course of the year. On Imbolc, Brigit collects her kindling to encourage the regeneration of Spring, which renders her young again.
Saint Brigid (patroness of poetry, learning, healing, protection, blacksmithing, livestock and dairy production) arose in the Christian tradition and shares similar iconography as the Celtic goddess. She is often depicted with a cross made of reeds, and her ministry is said to be blessed by fire.
Saint Brigid is best known for her ability to multiply healthful commodities, like milk and butter, and she is venerated on February 1st. Candlemas is a Christian holiday that happens at the cross-quarter (February 2nd), wherein the churches’ annual stores of candles are blessed. Villagers would spend the day making candles together for their personal use throughout the year, plus they would make candles as a gift to the church.
Let’s not forget about Groundhog’s Day–yet another cross-quarter tradition! Groundhogs save their energy during the cold of Winter, but they venture outdoors in early February (the 2nd, to be precise). If they see their shadow, then they become alerted and retreat to their burrow–indicating 40 more days of hibernation.
So, how do we celebrate the cross-quarter here at Rose Rock? Well, we build a fire outdoors in honor of Goddess Brigit (plus, it’s cold, so the fire is nice). In the gesture of Saint Brigid, we multiply the joy-giving and life-sustaining commodities of…pancakes, with butter of course! The families in our community bring all sorts of pancakes with a variety of toppings.
Our bodies are warmed by the fire, bellies are warmed by the pancakes, and hearts are warmed by the community. In the Candlemas tradition, we prepare candles to be used at the school throughout the year. I tell a story that demonstrates how to roll a candle with a sheet of beeswax, and the whole community joins in the effort. At this time, we are using the last of our candles that we made in February 2023, which is so magical! The children will often say, “I think I made this candle” when I place a fresh one in the center of the table. And, in homage to the groundhogs, we make an opportunity for everyone to leave their cozy homes and join us in celebration. Being part of a group that is gathering around a fire and eating pancakes and rolling candles and listening to stories and sharing songs is a marvelous choice for those who are feeling an outward gesture. Though, sometimes the Sun is too bright or the shadows too intense, and a cozy burrow is more suitable for folks.
I love that, through the wisdom of the ages, the cross-quarter provides a safe haven for so many qualities of being. The Goddess Brigit grows old in the Winter with a feeling of heaviness and fullness, and she has the opportunity to restore her youth through kindling flame and the arrival of Spring. Saint Brigid multiplies commodities; wherein, through her faith, scarcity becomes fecundity. With Candlemas, everyone gathers on a dark and cold day, collaborating to create and bless the potential of many brightly lit days in the future. On groundhog’s day, these celebrated animals remind us that being outward or inward is an option, and there is value in either choice. To me, the cross-quarter feels a bit burdened but heading toward transformation, so I am hopeful…