Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Today is Imbolc (pronounced either IM-ulk or IM-bulk), an ancient festival predating Christianity, and even the Celtic tradition, dating, in fact, all the way back to Neolithic times. It marks the day halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The age-old tradition of weather prognostication on this day is echoed in the modern North American version: Groundhog Day.

The day originally was based on the beginning of lactation for the ewes, who were preparing for lambing season. But it soon evolved into a recognition that the ground is warming just a bit under the snow; seeds and tree roots are starting to stir in their sleep. It won't be long before the first early flowers peek up through the whiteness.

I'm not a pagan or a Wiccan, but I have to admit that this festival has always been special to me since a friend introduced me to it while I was living in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Ever since, I begin to notice the changes in my surroundings that begin in late January. It might still be frigid outside, but the sun itself feels a little bit warmer on my back during an afternoon ride than it did a few weeks ago. Another example: Last night, as I was leaving work at 6:00 p.m., I noted the last dribble of sunset still in the western sky (appropriately , it was the night the festival begins -- February 1). This is certainly a marked change from the sunsets of early January, which sometimes seem to begin not long after the end of a late lunch.

Wikipedia says, "Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or simply watching for omens (whether performed in all seriousness or as children's games), a great deal of candles, and perhaps an outdoor bonfire if the weather permits." All great ideas; sometimes I simply go for a walk and look around for signs of the change.

Shamefully, Wikipedia omits the critical ritual cyclists have evolved over the last century or so: The purchase of new tires and bar tape. Some sects, it seems, focus instead on a shiny new chain and cassette. Modern historians agree that, in fact, any sundries will do which make our bikes look and feel new again for those first pre-spring group rides or races in a month or so.

Renewal is on its way. Have hope, and light a candle.


Glenn_in_MA said...

Your post today falls into the category of "you learn something new every day"...at least for me it does. I thought today was just one of Mr. Hallmark's failures...and I ought to know better! :) Anyway, only 40 days till DST!!

Velosopher said...

40 days til DST is a GREAT marker! Will have to use that one next year!

Why ought you know better about Imbolc?

Glenn_in_MA said...

Not so much about Imbolc as the fact that there is an astronomical linkage to the date on which Groundhog Day falls...I have a formal background in the science upon which weather prognostication is based on.

Had a DST countdown widget on my blog last year...forgot to put it up this year! It starts a week later this year given the way the dates line up (2nd Sunday in March)...but lasts a week longer in the Fall.