Here in the North Eastern US it seems nearly impossible that the holiday of Candlemas should be considereed the beginning of Spring, as February 2nd tends to include a nice thick blanket of snow on our great Mother Earth. Or at the very least days are filled with drizzle, slush and sad gray skies, also known as the saddest, dreariest weather of the entire year. Which is exactly what makes this the best time for the Pagan Festival of Lights. And as for Spring, although this may seem a tenuous beginning, all the little buds, flowers and leaves will have arrived on schedule before Spring runs its course to Beltane.
Of course, Candlemas is the Christian version of the holiday. The real names, the Pagan names for this Celebration are Imbolc or Oimelc. Imbolc literally means, "in the belly," for in the womb of the Great Mother there are stirrings. The seeds that were planted in her blessed womb at solstice is quickening and the new year grows. Oimelc means "milk of ewes," as it's also the lambing season.
You may also hear the holiday called "Brigit's Day," in honor of the great Irish Goddess (Pagan) and Saint (Christian) Brigit. In the olden days of ancient Ireland, in the capitol of Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (never a man) kept a perpetual flame burning in her shrine as a sign of honor. She was considered to be a goddess of fire, a patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing. She especially had a touch of midwifery. Brigit, a triple Goddess, was occasionally said to have two sisters, also named Brigit. (Another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus She bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called 'bride' in her honor.)
Obviously the Roman Catholic Church could not allow for Brigit to be called a Goddess, and yet they could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon either. So, as a solution they canonized her and she would forevermore be remembered as Saint Brigit, patron Saint of smithcraft, poetry and healing. In order to do this they had to create a story to explain her existence at all. They did this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was really an early Christian missionary sent to introduce the people of Ireland to the true God. And that her "miracles" simply misled the common people in to believing she was more than human. For whatever reason the people chose to believe this, I don't know, but it appears as if they at least acted the part. In some parts of Ireland it was even taught that Brigit was the "foster mother" of Jesus and that he had spent his childhood there.
Since Brigit symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge and the fire of poetic inspiration the day was/is marked by the kindling of sacred fires. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well and began using the day (Candlemas) as the day to bless all the churches candles for the following year.
Never one to refrain from piling holiday atop holiday, the Catholic Church also named this to be the day for the "Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it may not be apparent to today's readers the reason for the Purification celebration in the early days of the church it was quite the big deal! There was an old custom called "churching women." It was believed that women were impure for six weeks following birth. And since the Winter Solstice marked the time when Mary had given birth, Candlemas marked the day upon which she would once again be pure. By Pagan teachings we can re-translate this as the time when the Great Mother or Crone once again transforms in to the Maiden Goddess.
Today of course we know February 2nd as Groundhog's Day. A day for us to pull a poor unsuspecting groundhog from his bed to ask him for a weather prediction. However, this too is in fact a rather ancient custom. Okay, not so much the Groundhog bit, but there is an old British rhyme which tells us that "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the
Like other High Holidays or Great Sabbats, Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it's alternate date which is astrologically determined by the sun's reaching 15-degrees Aquarius. Another holiday that tends to get stuck in the mix here is Valentines day. Orthodox Christians and other groups are in the habit of celebrating the birth of Jesus not on December 25th, but on January 6th, which then shifts the date of the Purification Feast to February 14th. But this of course is the vast minority of people. If you ask just about any modern citizen on the street they are going to tell you plainly that February 14th is Valentines day.
One of the more common folk customs still practiced today is to place lighted candles in each window of the house beginning at sundown on Candlemas Eve (Feb 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. If you plan to do so make sure that candles are all well secured against tipping and guarded from curtains, furniture, etc. What a beautiful sight it is on a cold, bleak and dreary night to see a house with every window lit by candles! And, of course, if you are your Coven's chandler, or if you just happen to like making candles, Candlemas Day is THE day for doing it. Some Covens hold candle-making parties and try to make and bless all the candles they'll be using for the whole year
on this day.
Other customs for the day include weaving " Brigit's Crosses" from pieces of straw or wheat to hand around the house for protection, preforming rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making "Brigit's Beds" to ensure fertility of mind, body and spirit, and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles) for the High Priestess to wear for the Candlemas/Imboc Circle, similar to those worn on St. Lucy's Day in Scandinavian countries. All in all, this Pagan Festival of Lights, sacred to the young Maiden Goddess, is one of the most beautiful and poetic of the year.