Today is Midwinter, the seasonal holiday marking the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Below is a blog post from 2008, the first time we celebrated a seasonal holiday. Enjoy, and Happy Midwinter!
February 2nd, known in the U.S. as “Groundhog’s Day,” marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice (the start of winter) and the Spring Equinox (the start of spring). In various traditions this day is also known as Imbolc or Oimelc (Irish Gaelic/Celtic), Day of Brigid, and Candlemas (Roman Catholic).
Like most holidays, Groundhog’s Day has Pagan roots. The word Imbolc or “Imbolg” means “in the belly,” and is a reference to the pregnancy of animals (particularly ewes) this time of year. Closley related, “Oimelc,” means “ewe’s milk.” The Celts, their religion tied closely to the earth and the changing seasons, celebrated this time of year by focusing on the lighting of fires (which reflected the warm sun’s growing strength over the coming months), and holding festivals for the goddess Brigid, who eventually brings spring back to the land. Winter was a harsh time for these ancient Europeans. For them the success of the new farming season was of great importance. Imbolc rituals were performed to harness divine energy that would ensure a successful crop.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the day is known as Candlemas and marks the six week period after Mary birthed Jesus. This day is traditionally celebrated with the lighting of many blessed candles and a feast.
The Groundhog’s Day tradition was imported from Europe, where German people had followed the hibernation patterns of the hedgehog to try to get a sense of how long winter would last. In North America this tradition was carried out with the groundhog, and today we still look to “Punxsutawney Phil” each February 2nd for a divination as to how much winter still lies ahead.
In any sense, now is the time of Midwinter. We are halfway into winter, halfway to spring. Each day the sun grows stronger and makes the day a little longer.
The idea of Midwinter spoke to Wyatt and I, as we are trying to be more mindful, peaceful, and spiritual. We like the idea of acknowledging the passage of time and the changing of seasons, and a celebration focusing on the earth resonates with us. We decided that we would have a little Midwinter celebration of our own. So last night we lit all the candles in our house to acknowledge the sun’s growing strength, turned on a peaceful album called “Winter in the Moors” (featuring instrumental Celtic music), and made a Midwinter feast of Carrot & Potato soup and a handmade braided bread. While we waited for the bread to bake, we sat at our candlelit table drinking hot tea and reading poems. Afterwards we spoke about what our hopes are for the coming seasons. It was a beautiful, insightful, experience that left us both with a feeling of deep peace in our hearts and a connectedness to the rhythms of the earth.
steaming tea and bright candles
Midwinter feast of soup and braided bread
I’ll leave you with one of the poems we read. It’s a beautiful piece from Wendell Berry (farmer and writer, well-known author of Culture and Agriculture: The Unsettling of America).
Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
within the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
May peace live in your heart this Midwinter season.