Kage Baker loved this day. Not for any especial personal rituals or remembrances; not for the panoply and splendour of groundhogs. It just made her laugh with its multi-faceted dedications. She said it was the goofiest mash-up of pagan and Christian, antique and modern festivities going.
It is Imbolc – one of the quarter days between the solstices and equinoxes, an occasion to celebrate the waning of winter – not yet the end but certainly a hopeful time, when the ewes are pregnant, some early grass and flowers are poking through the snow, and we seem to have survived another sojourn in the heart of the dark.
And it’s Candlemas – which was put in place by the nascent Christian Church in the British Isles, where they did a lot of conversion by filing the serial numbers off old rites and dieites and declaring them saints. This day in the Church celebrates the return of light and the approach of spring with the blessing of the candles for the coming year. In our childhood, Kage and I both carried candles home from church after after our elementary school classes were marched into church; I don’t know if they still do that, but it was a lovely ceremony. Somehow the little kids never set themselves on fire …
And it’s Groundhog Day! That most American of whacked out prophetic rites, I’ve always thought: theoretically instituted by German colonists to figure out if winter was actually over. I’ve always though that maybe the absence of snow or the sprouting of crops might be more help; or maybe a basic course in horology or astronomy … but no, an entire industry has now grown up around watching to see if a large rodent notices the sun is shining. The fact that it is a money-making spectacle and duly reported on the national news just makes it more intrinsically American, somehow.
It was this weird concatenation of cultures that so amused Kage. It’s old but screwy. It’s one of the more blatant of the British “local gods are really saints” tricks. Despite the careful formality of the groundhog wranglers – who dress in Victorian finery to haul the unfortunate Punxutawney Phil out of his fake tree stump burrow – there’s just a basic corn-dog and beer vulgarity to the entire spectacle. Maybe it’s the image of men in frock coats and top hats clutching an enormous rodent who usually looks like he wishes he was a carnivore …
And Kage was, of course, a firm believer in any excuse for a party. So we usually put it on a bit for February 2nd, toasting the oracular groundhog from our perch here on the edge of the Uttermost West. As Kage said, none of that stuff makes it over the Rockies anyway – our own winter would do as it pleased, no matter what conditions ol’ Phil wished on the East and Midwest. He’s like the Farmers’ Almanac: California is an afterthought, if we get any predictions at all.
That was always fine with us – Phil has a habit lately of cursing the Midwest with winters just shy of overnight glaciation. We’re much better off here, in the land of February roses and orange blossoms.
So I’ll toast the furry prophet with ice cream tonight – Rocky Road, which is the sort of winter he usually prognosticates. But I’ll still light a candle to the retreat of the winter, and thank Brigid in all her faces for her attention to the turn of the seasons.
Time marches on, and it’s much nicer to mark it with flowers and candles and sleepy furry animals than disasters. So here’s to the groundhogs, Dear Readers – light a candle and a blessed Imbolc to you all.