Thursday, February 2, 2017

Solmonath

 Yesterday was Candlemas day, the day when, in times past, the candles to be used in church throughout the year were brought to the altar to be blessed.

It marks another important milestone too: the halfway point of winter. Weatherlore says that

"if Candlemas Day be clear and fine, the rest of winter is left behind;
If Candlemas Day be rough and grum, there's more of winter left to come."

So far we've had a mix of both, with sun, clouds, wind, showers, and cold. I wonder what that portends? I'm betting on a late spring, myself.
February is the month of purification, according to old Roman traditions. A time to cleanse, expiate, and be ready for the coming year. In their calendar, February was actually the last month of the year, the new year beginning with the coming of March. Which makes sense in a way; March is when new growth starts and spring arrives, while January is still locked in the cold death of winter.

The old pre-Roman British calendar called this month Sol-monath, or “mud month,” and in West Virginia that is certainly an apt name. February often brings us freezes and thaws, days of unseasonable warmth mixed with days of bitter cold as winter’s grip almost imperceptibly weakens. I remember my first years on my farm and the mud that was so deep vehicles could not make it through our road, and we often walked as much as half a mile, hauling in groceries and feed. There was no problem keeping fit in those days! February was also called Kale-monath in old Britain, since this was the month that kale and cabbage seeds would sprout.

If you are lucky and have them in your gardens, you will see the little white snowdrops bloom this month. I have never been lucky enough to have them here; mine are the ones that are tall and bloom after the daffodils. According to legend, the snowdrop appeared after Adam and Eve were thrown out of Eden. Eve longed for the end of the cold weather, and just when it seemed winter would never end, an angel changed some of the falling snow into the little white flowers we call snowdrops, and gave Eve renewed hope that warmer weather would soon return.

Some believe that the snowdrop will always bloom on Candlemas day, or February 2. In America we celebrate the lowly groundhog on this date, but in Britain it was traditionally the day when all the candles to be used in the churches that year were blessed in a special ceremony.

Those of us who search for indications of the weather trends for planting can watch for signs in February that will help our predictions. For example, thunder in February means frost in May. If your cat sleeps out in the sun in February, she’ll be finding a warm spot behind the stove in March. Cold and snow in February is good news for spring weather, but a fair February is not a good sign.  

A strange story for this month is an event that occurred in England about 150 years ago. There was a heavy snowfall on February 8th that blanketed most of the country. When people went outside they were surprised to find thousands of footprints in the new-fallen snow—footprints shaped like a cloven hoof. The prints went on for miles, and no one ever discovered where they led, or who or what had made them. The event remains a mystery to this day.

Personally, I am hoping for some snow in February. I like to see the ground blanketed in white while I sit inside my warm house and make my lists of seeds to buy for the coming garden season. I like pulling my rocker up in front of the fireplace to enjoy its comfort a few more times before the doors and windows open and our activity moves out-of-doors. This is a month to relax and renew, to plan and prepare. Warm weather will be with us soon enough; for now let’s enjoy the beauty and the ability rest while winter blows its last cold breath.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Richard Marsh said...

"February often brings us freezes and thaws" We used to get that sort of mud and ice weather when I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It usually happened around the end of December. We called it a miry crispness.

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