Fire and ice

Recently, my family and I were invited to a neighbour’s farm to help celebrate the tradition of Candlemas (pronounced like Christmas, only with “Candle” instead of “Christ”).

I readily accepted the invitation because I knew there were going to be a number of neighbours there whom I have not yet met, but also because I was intrigued with the idea of Candlemas. I had never heard of this tradition until my neighbour explained it to me. It is simple enough, although upon researching it, it has a deep and diverse (and somewhat pagan) history.

Little did I know, but by participating in this magical evening, Candlemas has suddenly become one of my favourite traditions.

Simply put, it is the tradition of marking the arrival of spring. On the second of February (this date varies slightly depending on your source, but generally right in the middle of the winter equinox and the spring solstice), a hole is dug into the snow, down to the earth, and a candle is lit and placed into the hole. The belief is the fire will encourage the earth to warm, hence, hastening the arrival of spring.

It is understood to be a pagan ritual of Gaelic roots (originally called Imbolk), but was Christianized as a celebration of Saint Brigid. The Christian celebration is different with the blessing of candles in the church or some variation of the sort. It was also seen by some as a time of Divination, which in turn may have given birth to our current tradition of Ground Hog Day, where some poor celebritized subterranean rodent predicts (or divines) the arrival of spring.

On the night we celebrated, it was very cold, and very dark. With our tummies full of food and drink, children large and small in tow, we trudged as a group through the deep snow into a field not far from the house. As the newly appointed orchard, our hosts had chosen this area to be the place to dig.

The kids were having so much fun, crawling somewhat blindly through the night. Laughter from adults and children alike broke the silence as we followed the warm glow of the lantern ahead. After a few words regarding the ceremony, we all began to dig into the snow. One by one the candles were lit and the effect was enchanting. Little lantern like holes glowing warmly with candlelight, casting flickering light upon us all. It was beautiful!

At the end of the night, I was chilled to the bone and no closer to knowing the arrival of spring but I felt pleased to have been a part of something that felt so special. I’m certain that my three-year-old, bewitched by the effect of fire and ice in the dead of night, will have this experience imprinted in his memory forever. As for myself, I am determined to include this – or some variation of it – into my own collection of family traditions.

Cal lighting the candle
Cal lighting the candle

Regardless of its spiritual roots and intentions, there’s nothing quite like the beauty of candles flickering in the snow on a cold winter night to boost one’s spirits and help ignite the excitement of the coming spring.

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