The winter holidays have always been a big deal in my family – probably the biggest, most lavish event we have. As with many people, we tend to get quite frantic around Thanksgiving, running around, finishing the shopping, wrapping presents, baking cookies. It’s both exceptionally exciting and ruthlessly stressful.
For me, personally, it has also been the only time of year that I’ve felt I had permission to really cocoon myself and my soul. I’ve been able to set my struggles aside and enjoy spending more time with family, without feeling guilty about pulling back from work duties. For a long time, it was really the only time of year that I truly felt that I could just BE.
Between my fondness for this time of year and the incredible amount of time that my family spends preparing for Christmas, there is always a huge feeling of let-down once it’s over. I tend to start feeling a slide into melancholy by 7PM on Christmas night. And by December 26th, I have a little gray cloud floating over my head.
My instinct has been to counter this melancholy by searching for meaning – meaning in the Christmas holidays and meaning for what immediately follows. I really started to dig deeply in January 2011, after finding myself in tears over retiring the first real Christmas tree Former Boyfriend and I bought. It was the most beautiful tree I’d ever had and it brought so much joy to a troubled time in my family and my romantic partnership.
What did it all mean? I asked myself, when the act of removing the tree from my home made me feel so much sadness. That tree had symbolized hope, light, and joy. It had felt like its evergreen branches were tirelessly protecting me and my home and that it had literally brought a personal blessing to me.
Putting it away felt like removing that blessing, that protection. There was a deep sense of ripping away the magic of the holiday season and going back to stark reality (which, at that time in my life, was especially unappealing). Further, January and February have always stretched out long for me, two bitter cold months with very little culturally-recognized celebrations (besides Valentine’s Day, which has never resonated with me very deeply) to break up the dreariness.
Many years ago, my family started celebrating Candlemas on February 2nd – a “holy day” that I feel much more connected to than Valentine’s Day. However, over the years, we have pushed this celebration to the bottom of our priority lists, as tends to happen in this busy life. Further, this holiday is not largely recognized by the general public – certainly not the way Christmas is – and as such, there’s sometimes a feeling of celebrating in a vacuum (which isn’t at all fun).
However, as the years go by, I’ve seen again and again how important it is to maintain a thread of reverence throughout the year – especially in the bleak winter months.
Every holiday is essentially a celebration of a particular archetype, as well as certain spiritual principles. Candlemas (or Imbolc, as it was once called) is a celebration of the goddess (or saint, depending on your religious viewpoint) Brigid – a goddess of inspiration, light, and healing. Imbolc was once a celebration of life returning to earth, as evidenced by the sheep who gave birth around this time of year and the crocuses that would start to push through the snow. When the holiday was adopted by early Christians, it became Candlemas.
Like winter solstice, Hanukkah, and Christmas, it’s another celebration of light. Though we often take it for granted, light is an overwhelming blessing. Remembering this blessing is one of the ways we can honor the sacred in everyday life during this dark time of year.
This year, I am re-inspired to make more time for celebration and spiritual contemplation during the winter – and, in fact, all year long. After putting away this year’s Christmas decorations, I’m already looking for ways to connect with Brigid’s energy and to honor the fires of inspiration. Did you know that there’s even a Santa-like tradition of Imbolc in which a household creates a “Brigid’s Bed” – a small bed – by the fireplace on Imbolc Eve, along with grains and milk, all of which will be gratefully used by Brigid during the night? If I had children, this would be part of my yearly celebration, just like leaving cookies and milk for Santa.
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and may your Candlemas and all the days that follow be merry and bright.