There is a stretch of time between the winter holidays and February that is dark, quiet, and bitterly cold. I often struggle in the days after Christmas, when the tree comes down, when all the pretty lights get put away. My soul knows it's not time, yet. We're still in the darkest days of the year and removing the evergreen, the illumination from our homes at that time is just too soon.
Thankfully, 33 days later comes the moment when the ember of warmth and light that we hold close to our chests during the winter solstice becomes the tiniest flicker of a flame. Candlemas (or Imbolc) is here. In pre-Christian times, this holy day fell between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, marking the halfway point of winter - the tipping of the scales when spring finally started gaining strength and crocuses were starting to push through the snow. The day was often associated with the goddess of inspiration, Brigid, who was later incorporated into Christian tradition as St. Bridget.
As Christianity overtook the cultures of the Great Mother, this day became a celebration of light, when baby Jesus was held by Simeon and declared to be the light of the world. The churches blessed their candles on this day (hence the name), and many people would leave candles burning in their windows throughout the night to commemorate this sacred time.
This is one of my favorite holidays of the year. It feels like such a deeply sacred time to me, a time when I long to keep the world at a bit of a distance, a time when I want to spend the evenings with family members and hold them close. Truthfully, and I mean no disrespect by this, I'd rather have a paid holiday on Candlemas/Imbolc than on President's Day.
If you look closely, there is such a beautiful magic in this time of year, even though it seems that we are still locked in the harsh embrace of bitter winter (which, itself, is an illusion - I'm convinced that winter is a gentle lover that some of us have yet to learn to appreciate). It's a perfect time to kindle the flames of inspiration that have been smoldering in our hearts all winter long. It's a time to appreciate the magic of the earth, the energy of the sacred feminine that is on the brink of succulent fertility, and the innocence of childhood.
Did you know that in the old days, people celebrated this day much like Christmas - by setting up a tiny bed near the hearth and leaving an offering of milk and honey for the goddess who became weary on Imbolc Eve, visiting everyone and touching them with her inspiration? Sound familiar? A little Santa-esque, right? This tradition of setting up a Brigid's Bed is so charming and magical, it makes my heart smile. Can you imagine living in a culture where our children were as excited about setting up a Brigid's Bed as they were about hanging stockings on the mantle at Christmas? What a wonderful thought.
It's a beautiful lesson for us all. Inspiration has been smoldering in our hearts and souls all winter long. It is waiting to flicker into a flame. But we have to set out a bed for it, first. We have to make a space for it. Whether that is literal or metaphorical, let this celebration of light, of inspiration, be our preparation for whatever is waiting to be born within us.