FEBRUARY: [OE] Sol-mōnaþ 'mud month’. According to Bede: ‘the month of cakes, which they offered in it to their gods’. Either the cakes looked like they were made of mud due to their colour and texture, or literally it was the month of mud due to wet English weather) [OHG] Hornung - taken to refer to the antlers shed by red deer during this time. The original Anglo-Saxon name for the month was ‘Sprout-kale’ for the vegetable that began to sprout at this time. In the 14th century misericord calendar, it was shown as the time for hedging and ditching. Hence the popular name ‘fill-dyke’ when rain and melted snow fills the ditches to overflowing. The tree representing February is the Ash, sacred to the goddess in all her many guises.
1st Feast day of Brigid, Bride. Daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. She is considered the patroness of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, sacred wells, serpents (in Scotland) and the arrival of early spring. Today: Pin Brigid’s sun-wheel cross up at the threshold of the house to keep evil away for the coming year.
Robert Herrick’s poem, Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve gives a contemporary account of the custom of removing Christmas decorations in the 16th century.
Down with rosemary and bays
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly, now upraise
The greener box, for show…
1st Februm, sacred to Juno Februra and a month during which reverence was shown to the spirits of the ancestors and the rebirth of spring. It was an old Roman custom of burning candles to the goddess Februa, mother of Mars, to scare away any evil spirits.
2nd Candlemas or Imbolc. Among the Celts, the pagan celebration of Imbolc occurred on the first of February. This was in honour of the goddess Brigid and was associated with purification and fertility at the end of winter. Peasants would carry torches and cross the fields in procession, praying to the goddess to purify the ground before planting. In the early Churches, the torches were replaced by blessed candles whose glow was supposed to take away evil and symbolize that Christ is the light of the world. They would then take the candles to their homes to bring protection to their houses.
Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau is a Welsh name of Candlemas, celebrated on 2ndFebruary and the Welsh equivalent of the Gaelic holiday of Imbolc. It derived from the pre-Reformation ceremony of blessing the candles and distributing them to be carried in a procession, however, just as this Christian ceremony drew on pagan festivals connected with the coming of the Spring, some of the old practices that carried on in parts of Wales until the 20th Century suggest older rituals. Robert Herrick’s poem Upon Candlemas Day reflects the spirit of the time – observe the end of the Yuletide festivities with a toast:
End now the white-loaf and the pie,
And let all sports with Christmas die.
2nd The Festa Candelarum in Rome commemorated the search for Persephone kidnapped by the King of the Other World Hades, by her mother Demeter. As Persephone was no longer in our world, darkness was everywhere, so her mother used a torch in her search, and in the end obtained that her daughter would be on Earth and Olympus for two thirds of the year (the light period), and in the Other World (Hades) for the other third of the time (winter season). The festival of candles symbolizes the return of the Light.
4th Fornicalia, a Roman spring corn festival celebrated in the honour of the goddess, Fornax, the goddess of furnaces, to ensure that the corn (grain) would be properly baked. The word fornax is a diminutive of fornacula meaning a ‘kiln’ or ‘furnace’. The Fornacalia was a feria conceptiva – a movable feast, but always celebrated before the 17th of February.
7th Favonius – the Roman festival of spring sowing.
13th Faunalia, Roman festival of Faunus, guardian of crops and herds.
Weather-lore: ‘When the cat lies in the sun in February, she will creep behind the stove in March’.
13th Old Imbolc. (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa'l Breeshey), is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1st February, or more traditionally about halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals – along with Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain– and corresponds to the Welsh Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau.Today: Celebrate the beginning of spring.
14th St Valentine’s Day. According to folklorist, Thiselton Dyer, whatever the historical origin of this festival, ‘whether heathen or Christian, there can be no doubt of its antiquity. There seems every possibility that St Valentine’s day, with its many customs, has come down to us from the Romans, but was fathered upon St Valentine in the earlier ages of the Church in order to Christianise it’. Or …
15th Lupercalia honouring the gods of fertility, woodlands and pasture is believed to pre-date the founding of Rome. It was a festival of youth that eventually became associated with St Valentine’s Day. Today: A day for those of a romantic disposition.
18th Quirinalia is a spring festival to honour Qurinus a Roman/Sabine deity – possibly a war god – who pre-dated Rome and whose feast day fell on the last day of the Fornacalia.
22nd Beating the Bounds: Traditional day for walking parish boundaries in England. The custom is thought to date back to Anglo-Saxon times and might even have been derived from the Roman festival of Terminalia, celebrated in honour of Terminus, god of Landmarks and Boundaries.
23rd Terminalia was held to be the last day of the Roman sacred year. See above.
Weather-lore: ‘A frost on St Matthias’s Day (24th) will last for anything from a week to two months.’
Leap Year: February 29th is a date that usually occurs every four years, and is called leap day. This day is added to the calendar in leap years as a corrective measure, because the Earth does not orbit the sun in precisely 365 days.
In Ireland and Britain, it is a tradition that women may propose marriage only in leap years. While it has been claimed that the tradition was initiated by St Patrick or Brigid of Kildare in 5th century Ireland, this is dubious, as the tradition has not been attested before the 19th century. Supposedly, a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland (then age five and living in Norway!), required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man: compensation was deemed to be a pair of leather gloves, a single rose, £1 and a kiss. In some places the tradition was tightened to restricting female proposals to the modern leap day, 29th February, or to the medieval leap day, 24th February.