“February Second, Candlemas Day!
Half your wood, and half your hay!
Half the Winter has passed away,
We’ll eat our supper by the light of day!”
Whether you believe Winter starts on December 21st and ends on March 21st, or whether you follow the older reckoning and view Winter as the “dark half” of the year, the season of cold and dark that begins on All Hallows (Samhain) and lasts until May Day (Beltane), we are, as of today, halfway through it! In an older and more agrarian age, this was the time to take stock of one’s provisions, and see whether or not one had enough wood for the fire and fodder for one’s livestock to make it through until warming temperatures and growing pastures brought a measure of freedom and safety from want. As another old maxim put it,
“If, on the morning of Candlemas Day,
You’ve half your wood and half your hay,
You’ll make it safely through ’til May!”
If not, better see if any of your more provident neighbors had any extra you could buy, trade, or borrow, because there was no Walmart to go to, to make up the lack, in those days! If you had ample stores, this was a time of some satisfaction and comfort – and the lengthening hours of daylight means that we can, indeed, “eat our supper by the light of day!”
But as another old saying reminds us,
“As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens!”
It is a mostly bright and sunny (some clouds are about), but cold and windy, Candlemas day: 27°, but with the wind-chill, the “feels-like” temperature is a mere 14°! A clear reminder that, although Candlemas (earlier known as Imbolc, by the ancient Celts) is in some ways – with the lactating of the ewes, and the blooming of the snowdrops – a foretaste of Spring, Winter is still only HALF over!
More on the religious significance of Candlemas in a separate post.
(The picture is a woodcut illustration for Edmund Spenser’s “The Shepherds.” February was lambing season, for our forebears (and still is, for at least some of those who rear sheep!), so it is most appropriate – the ancient Celtic name for the festival that became known in the Christian era as Candlemas was “Imbolc,” which meant “In the belly,” as in, the lambs were in the bellies of the ewes, waiting to be born…)