Friday 5 February 2021

Imbolc, Brigid-tide and Candlemas

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  Firstly, I'm sorry that the font changes halfway through this post, I know that it's annoying but I have tried and tried but I can't do anything about it.

Everything here feels very wet.  We have had a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks - the Best Beloved says that he has never seen so much rain - but we have also had sunshine and snow.  Fortunately we live far enough away from rivers that we have not been flooded but our weekly drive to The Teacher's house takes us past lakes where fields should be and rivers which have burst their banks.  (I should explain that the lockdown rules allow us to form a childcare bubble with her family so we go to her house when she and her husband are both working and need essential childcare, usually once or twice a week.)   We are glad to have had snow, it feels like a real winter.

In ancient times the Celts celebrated Imbolc on 1st February.  Halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, with longer, lighter days and the birth of the first lambs, they regarded it as the first day of spring and honoured the goddess Bride.  When the Christian church took over the pagan celebrations it gave the day to St Brigid of Kildare and her story became entwined with that of Bride.  In the sixth century the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I declared that Candlemas should be celebrated in churches on 2nd February, forty days after Christmas Day, which meant that celebrations began on the evening of 1st February.

In the church calendar this date became The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and remembered the day when the infant Jesus' parents took him to the temple so that Mary could receive the ritual of purification and the baby could be presented to God.  Although I have read that this is a Jewish tradition I'm sure that the purification is also a Christian tradition as a few weeks after my elder daughter was born my friend's mother, who was born in Yorkshire in the 1930s, was surprised to hear that I had been out before I had been "churched", which should have been when the baby was six weeks old.   The old Churching of Women service has been replaced in the Church of England by a service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child and quite right too as far as I'm concerned, I find the notion that a woman needs to be purified after giving birth to be repugnantly misogynistic.  After the Reformation, the Protestant church shifted the focus of the day from Mary to Jesus and it became the day to celebrate The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.  Anyway, to return to this story, an old man called Simeon recognised Jesus as the son of God and declared him to be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”  From this text Jesus is described as the Light of the World and so it became the day on which people would bring their candles to church to be blessed alongside the candles which the church would use over the forthcoming year.  So, as far as the Church is concerned, it's all about light and candles but the people still celebrated in their homes and had a bit of a party, placing lighted candles in their homes and giving candles as gifts on this day.

More than any other year, I wanted to celebrate Candlemas this year and I'm not really sure why but as I read more about it I felt the attraction of lighting candles to dispel the metaphorical darkness of living in a global pandemic, using them as a symbol of hope now that the vaccination programme really is underway in this country.  Reading about the ancient practices, I really understood the longing for spring - please don't misunderstand me, I'm an astronomical kind of gal and I know that spring will come with the equinox in March, but half the winter is behind us now and I am ready to look ahead towards the spring.  My celebration would have to be something I could do by myself and looking around the internet I found a Forest Church video entitled "An Outdoor Celebration for Brigid-tide and Candlemas".  It looked just right for me.

The introductory video told me that I would need a bonfire to burn my Christmas tree, a candle in a lantern or jam jar and a wassail -  a warm, mulled drink of beer, cider or apple juice.  Well, this might have put me off because for the first time EVER, the Best Beloved chopped up our Christmas tree and put it out with the recycling weeks ago and he informed me last weekend that both our garden incinerator and fire basket disintegrated at the end of last summer.  Harrumph!  Secondly, I did not have any of said beverages to mull.  However, I decided that as I was a Girl Guide in my youth, I know how to be resourceful.  I found a small foil tray in the kitchen cupboard and put some tealights in it to make a substitute bonfire and I poured the last of my homemade blackberry vodka into a jug with a cinnamon stick and heated it up in the microwave.  I was ready.

I sat in the garden by myself and played the video.  I lit my tealights and fed my little fire with dried stems of lavender pulled from the bush.  At this point I realised that I shouldn't have used so many tealights because with such a lot of melted wax, the fire blazed and grew and I almost burned down the wooden table.  Almost.  I sang loudly and merrily.  I lit my candle and in the absence of fruit trees or bushes, I drank my blackberry vodka and wassailed the lavender.  I sat quietly and looked around at the new, living green shoots.  It began to rain but I stayed outside until the film, and my celebration, was over.  I came indoors feeling more connected to nature, to the rhythm of the seasons and to God.  I also felt more hopeful and more myself.  I think my equilibrium has been restored.

While reading about Imbolc in preparation for writing this post I discovered that the bramble is sacred to St Brigid and that its leaves and fruits are used to attract prosperity and healing, so my blackberry vodka wasn't out of place, after all.  I shall have to make some more this year because I would like to celebrate Brigid-tide and Candlemas next year in a similar fashion...but with other people and a bit of a party.  

Stay safe and take care.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 2 February 2021

So That Was January

Hello, I hope you and yours are all safe and well.  The rates of infection are running so high that I fear you may not be.  These are scary times.

I am not coping as well with this lockdown as I did last year.  Last March the Best Beloved and I found a good routine within a few days but this time it's harder, largely because we can't use the garden.  It's simply too cold and if it's not too cold, it's too wet.  He has been furloughed so we are both at home together, indoors, and I have flumped about in a listless fashion, drifting from one thing to the next in an unstructured way which really doesn't suit me.  January is a month in which we usually celebrate several family birthdays and the fact that we can't get together at the moment has been hard to bear.  This unhappiness was compounded by the fact that I have spent a large part of the month trawling through eighty years of family photographs and remembering wonderful family holidays and parties, which really rammed the point home, although I continue to find something positive in every day which really is saving my sanity.  So, here is most of what I have been doing this month.

Lighting up

January really is a month for being cosy indoors so every evening I light up the candles and lanterns on the mantelpiece and enjoy the glow.  All over social media people seem to be looking for spring but it's not spring, it's winter, and I learned a few years ago that if I accept that fact and embrace it I'm going to feel much better about it.  In a few weeks' time I shall be looking for daffodils on the mantelpiece but right now, candles are what I want.


At the top of my stairs, in the small space we rather grandiosely call "the landing", there is a bookcase and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth has been glaring at me in a challenging manner from the second shelf for about fifteen years.  Every time I climbed the stairs it reminded me that it was waiting for me.  This book is 1,474 pages long which is why it has been on the To Be Read shelf for so long, I'm not a fast reader and I simply couldn't face it.  When I decided to read longer books in 2019 I planned to build up to this one towards the end of that year but my resolve crumbled when I got there.  However, at the beginning of January I decided that I felt ready to tackle it and if it's the only book I read this year, that will be fine.  I started reading it on 2nd January and I am enjoying it very much.  I'm more than halfway through and hoping to finish by the end of half term on 21st February but if I don't, I shall just carry on enjoying it until I reach the end.  


I am knitting a jumper for Tom Kitten.  It won't fit him until next winter so I'm not working to a deadline and I'm really enjoying the relaxed pace.  It's ages since I've knitted anything like this and I'm not the best knitter in the world but the yarn is a merino and cotton blend which is a dream to knit with (I bought it in a sale last summer).  I have remembered that I like knitting cables.


I have made some gift tags out of the Christmas cards.  It's a very simple but very satisfying thing to do.  When I was young my sisters and I used to sit around the dining room table together doing this, with pinking shears if my memory serves me right, as my mother crossed the senders off her own Christmas card list and this is the first time I have done it for many years.  With something good on the radio to keep me company I spent a very happy afternoon.  I am also enjoying the eco-virtuous glow of upcycling.  


I very rarely bake these days but the baking tins came out twice this month.  Firstly, I decided that it was time to introduce my Salopian grandchildren to their county dish, fidget pie.  It went down very well and Tom Kitten was delighted to see that I had adorned the pie with their initials.  Obviously, he had to have a slice with the T.  Cottontail wolfed hers down in about five seconds flat and I shall definitely make it for them again.  The second bake was a special cake, a streusal layer cake, my father's favourite baked in his honour because on Sunday we were

Celebrating Dad's 80th Birthday

Lockdown birthdays are difficult but Dad assured me that he had a lovely day.  During the afternoon thirty-four of us gathered on Zoom to celebrate with him and my mother - all of his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and associated in-laws as well as my aunt and uncle.  Some of us had baked birthday cakes and made special desserts, there was fizz and one of his grandsons had prepared a quiz.  I felt very emotional afterwards because we should all have been together physically rather than digitally and I may have had a little cry.  I also ate cake, and I have eaten cake again today.  It is a delicious cake.

So that was January.  Yesterday morning I woke up feeling strangely energetic and I put away my crib and Christmas decorations.  Today is Candlemas, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and I have a little plan to mark the day.  

Take care and stay safe.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x