Feb. 2 is one of the great cross-quarter days which make up the wheel of the year. It falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and in many traditions is considered the beginning of spring.
In Western Europe, this was the time for preparing the fields for the first planting. Pamela Berger has written a book, The Goodess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint, about the rituals celebrated at this time of year, when the ground is first awakened and the seed placed in the belly of the earth. This is a significant moment in a community which depends on the earth for sustenance. The fields were purified and offerings were made to the goddess.
The promises of the return of the light and the renewal of life which were made at the winter solstice are now becoming manifest. It's the dawn of the year. It's the time when a woman who is pregnant begins showing. It's time to creep out of the hibernation of winter, cautiously, like the Ground Hog who supposedly emerges on this day to check his shadow. It's the time of germination. This is a traditional time for new beginnings. Covens of witches usually initiate new members at this time.
What is the best way to celebrate? Candles and Christmas Greens The main element of your decorating scheme for Candlemas is fairly obvious: candles. You can gather all the candles in your home in one room and light them from one central candle. Or place a candle in each window (but watch them carefully).
Candlemas is one of the traditional times for taking down Christmas decorations (Twelfth Night, on Jan. 6, is the other). If you are very careful (because they are tinder dry), you can burn them. Or, better yet, return them to the earth mother by using them for compost or mulch.
Certain foods are traditional for Candlemas, including crepes, pancakes and cakes, all grain-based foods. Pancakes and crepes are considered symbols of the sun because of their round shape and golden color.
If you have a fireplace, clean out your hearth and light a new fire. Sit around the fire and reflect on your hopes for the coming year. What do you hope to accomplish? What are you passionate about? What seeds do you wish to plant? Discuss these ideas with others or write them down in a journal, but make them concrete in some way so that on Lammas (Aug. 2, the festival of the first harvest), you can look back to see your progress.
Brigid is the goddess of creative inspiration as well as reproductive fertility. This is a good time for sharing creative work, or, if you don't think of yourself as especially creative, an idea that worked or a plan that materialized. Thank the Goddess for her inspiration, perhaps by dedicating a future work to her.
In San Francisco, the Reclaiming Collective sponsors a public ritual called Brigid, which focuses on political commitment. After acknowledging despair over the events of the past year, the participants reflect on the source of their own power and then make a pledge in front of the community about the work they intend to do during the coming year. During this ritual, the flames in a cauldron represent Brigid's Sacred Flame, the fire of inspiration and passion, while a punch bowl filled with waters gathered from all over the world represents Brigid's Holy Well, the source of healing and purification.
If you plan your own ceremony, use these two powerful symbols: fire and water. For instance, wash your hands and bathe your face in salt water, which is especially good for purification. Light a candle as you make your pledge. Incorporate the third symbol of the holiday--seeds--by planting a seed or bulb in a pot to symbolize your commitment, or by blessing a bowl or packet of seeds that you will plant later.
Since the Christian season of Lent can sometimes begin as early as Feb. 4, some Candlemas customs have became associated with Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (the day before Lent's beginning on Ash Wednesday), which is a time of purification.
Have you ever given anything up for Lent? If not, you might consider it. You don't have to be Christian to gain spiritual benefits from the voluntary surrender of something you cherish. You can give up something frivolous or something serious, but it should be something you will notice. Folk wisdom says it takes six weeks (or approximately the 40 days of Lent) to establish a new habit, so you may end up with a lifestyle change.