Question of the week: Celebrations.

In early February, Celts celebrate a festival sometimes called Imbolc, sometimes called Candlemas, sometimes called Saint Bridgit’s day; each of these names signifying a different thematic emphasis or a different kind of ceremony related to the season. The ‘original’ theme, if I may speak broadly of such things, was the theme of winter’s end and summer’s immanent arrival – the sign in the environment heralding this theme was the flowing of new milk from the udders of the ewes. When I was living in Ireland, I noted that around this time of year the hawthorn trees started to flower, followed by the gorse trees, for the first time.

I celebrate the signs of the coming of springtime at this time of the year. But I live in Canada, not Ireland; and I live in a part of Canada where winter might persist for another two months or more. It thus makes no sense to celebrate the arrival of the spring. Indeed I suspect that for us Celtic Canucks, Imbolc is a celebration instituted for no better reason than to cheer ourselves up during the dark, cold, miserable, and boring months of winter.

But that might not be such a bad reason after all.

My question to one and all for this week concerns celebrations. At this time of year, what do you celebrate? Do you look for a calendar date, or for an observation in nature, to start the celebration? How do you celebrate it?

And for my readers in Canada and in American states that border Canada: Might it make sense to shift the celebration of Imbolc from the calendar day of 1st February, to the day in which the snow starts to melt for the first time in whatever place you are living? This year, that is what I am doing. When 1st February came around last week, it was still frickin’ freezing and overcast and dark, and so I just wasn’t in the mood to do any celebrating (well, partly because I had a cold). But today, with above-freezing temperatures and full sunlight for the first time in months, I’m much more inclined to do something for the season.

This week’s question inspired by “Pinch Pennies Save Planet” blog, and in particular by this post about celebrations in early February.

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14 Responses to Question of the week: Celebrations.

  1. mamadar says:

    What don’t I celebrate at this time of year? *g* I call it Imbolc, but in my UPG I associate it with Dana/Danu as mother goddess and star goddess, with the rising of a current in the land in response to a shift in the stars. Signs of Imbolc include snow and thaw, the first snowdrops and crocuses, and the first flirtations amongst birds. At the church where my husband is the organist and I am a chorister, we celebrate Candlemas with the traditional blessing of the candles and a procession, and we also observe Chinese Lunar New Year in honor of the 1/3 of our congregation who are Chinese. My husband and I still observe Valentine’s Day together, and I expect my Tibetan Buddhist sangha will be doing something for Losar, the Tibetan lunar new year, which doesn’t always synch up with the Chinese date. Whatever you call it, this time of year always brings me a rush of creative inspiration and energy, often coupled with renewed libido.

  2. misslynx says:

    For me, having lived the vast majority of my life in southern Ontario and the northern US where the climate is not much different, Imbolc has nothing to do with the arrival of spring, which as you note is still a long way off.

    It’s about the promise of spring – about having faith that no matter how dark and cold things may still be, that the wheel is turning, that “this too shall pass”, that life will return again. It’s a celebration of the increasing light, which is the only visible sign of the waxing of the year at this point, and more than anything a celebration of hope and faith — something very important during what some have termed “suicide month”, when those of us in cold climates with long winter may be otherwise tempted to despair, and often suffering some of the symptoms of SAD.

    So for me, the fact that you generally can’t see any visible signs of spring yet at the beginning of February is part of the point – because it’s about having faith that spring will come even though you can’t yet see it. Faith in hidden things, in the earth being pregnant with life even though she isn’t showing yet, in there being processes at work that may be beyond the ability of our senses to discern, but that are nonetheless still happening.

    And that’s something that can also be inspiring when things seem dark or hopeless for other reasons, unrelated to the time of year. That deep inner knowing that all is not as it appears, that even the darkest of times eventually passes, that there is always hope even when it’s hard to find, can get you through a lot.

  3. darakat_ewr says:

    Being in the southern hemisphere, Australia in fact, I celebrate it all back to front for a start….

  4. Much like Miss Lynx (and like her and yourself living in the same-ish place) I celebrate the Tipping of the Year– when the length of day appreciably lengthens. And the Groundhog part.

    I loved the point– both the bear story and the ” ‘Go out demons! Come in Good luck!’ ” are celebrate-able things. Many many years ago when I was reading up on the Middle Ages, I read in some book that what with Saints’ Days, and holidays, and agricultural festivals, etc few labourers week’s work would actually be a week long. The idea stuck, and I go by ‘the more the better’ philosophy.

    As well, if one used traditional markers here in the True North there would be hardly any holidays in the Winter and tooooo many in the Summer– I think balancing them around the year is better, and it’s VITAL to have one in February, the horrible month.

  5. lupabitch says:

    I don’t really do regular holidays any more, and haven’t for a while. Every day is full of smaller celebrations and the marking of the changes as they occur–I might notice one day in March, for example, that I saw my first robin of the year; or as I noted earlier this week, the snowdrops are blooming on campus.

    My celebration this weekend, one of the nice warmer periods we get after the initial, brief WINTER (such as it is in Portland), was putting in the hardiest seeds in my garden. Gardening is a sacred act for me–I don’t feel the need to pretty it up with prayers and rites and blessings. The very act of actively participating in cycles of everything from the life-death-rebirth cycle, to the sustainable living cycle, is spiritual for me.

  6. marytek says:

    there’s several “festivals” for me during late january to mid february:

    Perkuno Diena
    Gabijos Diena

    all very agricultural, and the geographic zone is similar weather-wise to southern ontario so I have no problems as you do. My festivals are agrarian based and traditionally revolve around the time of calfing.

  7. samgillogly says:

    You know it’s spring in Boston when the snow drifts start to melt, revealing layers of discarded cigarette butts from several months ago. 😉

    I enjoy any day this time of year that happens to be warm and balmy. Just being able to appreciate small miracles, like sparrows bathing, in puddles or snowdrops pushing through the ground, feels like a celebration in and of itself.

    At Berklee, we honor spring by having spontaneous drum circles on the sidewalk. 🙂

  8. alfrecht says:

    Based on some academic work I’ve done, the calendar date of Imbolc on Feb. 1 is just fine for celebrating it, because it may not in fact be based on anything having to do with seasonal signs after all (but in absence of a stone circle marking the return of the sun to the same point as the previous quarter-day, just using Feb. 1 as a convenient date works pretty well). Not unlike all of the quarter-days, it is a communal date, and has a very particular meaning as far as the fénnidi are concerned, i.e. the date on which they would have been re-integrated into society after their period as outsiders. The essential characteristics of the holiday are a focus on purification, and that’s something that we could probably all use at this time of year, no matter what the weather may or may not be doing in one’s individual neck of the woods.

  9. Anonymous says:


    Just nit-picking, but I think it may hve been blackthorn rather than hawthorn you saw flowering at Imbolc (thought it is early even for blackthorn). The blackthorn and hawthorn look similar, but the blckthorn flowers are whiter and the leaves are a different shape. The hawthorn typically flowers in May and is, indeed, the ‘mayflower’.

  10. nooo_coyote says:

    I’ve long felt that the traditional (ie: British) holidays don’t have a whole lot of meaning here in the Colonies. Or at least, have a very different meaning from the one outlined in most of the books about such things. In Nova Scotia, late January/early February is the harshest stage of winter. There is absolutely no hint of light at the end of the tunnel. So the traditional interpretation of Imbolc really doesn’t apply. If we’re celebrating anything at this time of year, it’s our own power to endure. The Mi’kmaq festival of Apuknajit, the Feeding of Grandfather, or the Feeding of Winter, is celebrated at around the same time as Imbolc. It is a ceremony of thanksgiving for having survived this far into winter, and a plea for assistance to make it through until spring. That seems far more relevant to the reality of our winter. I’m not advocating cultural appropriation, but for me, paganism is about my connection to the particular piece of dirt I find myself standing on. For many years, I’ve been saying we need to create our own traditions, to reflect the wheel of the year as we experience it where we are, rather than as our ancestors experienced it half a world away.

  11. kallisti says:

    I’ve been saying for many years that each community should be looking at their own reasons for celebrating a unique “wheel of the year”. I personally think that it is bogus for people all over this planet simply follow what was written down in the 1950s in England for supposedly an land based spirituality/religion.

    What many are practicing now is divorced from the land they live on.

    The dates are defined by astronomy, but what is celebrated on them should be up to communities who experience them. But if we start becoming a regional religion that holds only some common things in it’s practice, it will make it harder for it to receive recognition from the Powers That Be.

    Of course, the ignorance of astronomy is another of my personal gripes with the (Neo) Pagan community…but that is another topic….


  12. drui_en says:

    I celebrate whatever I can, whenever I can.
    Imbolc, for me, represents the days lengthening and the PROMISE of spring. Just because I can’t see it much doesn’t mean it isn’t on its way. 😉

  13. I’m in Hokkaido which means I have about the same long winter as in Canada and Minnesota (my home state). Meanwhile, my tradition is Hellenic, and the seasons in Greece are very different. The same concern certainly arises: do you adjust the festival to the local season, or what?

    I find there are two considerations: 1) the festival’s association with the season, and 2)its other associations bound up with the home culture of the festival (e.g. civic, ancestral, etc.). Hellenic festivals tend to have a lot of the latter, so I usually stick with the Greek dates. But to acknowledge the local seasons, why not establish new, more local festivals in addition?

  14. wildwolflupa says:


    Usually, to herald in the spring, I wait until I see that first Robin. But this year was a little different. We held our Imbolc on the first, and then this week has been absolutely beautiful.

    The sun has been shining more this week then the whole winter, snow is melting, puddles are forming, and I am doing my happy spring dance.

    Out of all the Sabbats, for me personally, Samhain, and Imbolc are the two closest to me. I celebrate both with over abundant pleasure and great joy.

    In our family, meaning my blood relatives, when the snow has passed enough to see the gardens, we all get together and plan our planting for the year. Although our gardens may be scattered around the countryside, what we harvest in the fall is shared at Thanksgiving with everyone. I have been absent from this celebration for a few years, and am looking forward to re-joining the planting again.

    In my house, we celebrate a lot of things. A new day, a good day, the sun, being together, things like that. Now so as not to diminish the “important” days, they usually take the form of a “movie night”, or a special treat with dinner, or just sitting and talking. Making a point of acknowledging that every moment is a gift and a celebration of life.

    I am one to dwell on past hurts, negativity, and morose thoughts, so any chance I get to be joyous I take.

    Just my 2cents.

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