Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February: Tradition Soup

February is a month unique for its multiple holidays that virtually cascade into each other.

February 2 is Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, considered the end of Epiphany by C of E. (In ancient times, a woman who gave birth to a man child was considered unclean for 7 days, and was to remain for 33 days “in the blood of her purification.” After 40 days, Mary redeemed her first born from the temple, and was purified by the prayer of Simeon. Which lead to the great chorale tradition centuries later of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, which I have enjoyed singing immensely.)

The name Candlemas arose from the tradition of the priest blessing candles (which must be of beeswax) at the mass to use the rest of the year.

It’s also Groundhog Day. Wiki tells us:

“An early American reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry dated February 5, 1841, of Berks County, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris:

Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

So the New World Germans are responsible for Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck, which begat the great Harold Ramis flick with Billy Murrary and Andie MacDowell. One of the landmark films of the 1990s, a look at the “what if” we had world enough and time to redo days until we got talents and love right. The friend I saw it with questioned if the Bill Murrary character had really changed. A unique interpretation.

Pagans had their own deal with Imbolc, an early Celtic feast demarking the midway between winter solstice and spring equinox, which was Christianized into the feast of St. Brigid. Neopagans and Wiccans continue the celebrations in their own ways today.

February 2 this year is also Chinese New Year’s Eve for the Year of the Rabbit that begins on February 3. The Rabbit year is traditionally seen as a year to catch your breath after the more volatile TIger year.

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Johnny Depp are all Rabbits. Now try saying there isn’t something behind this!

The stamp this year was designed by Kam Mark, who grew up in Chinatown. It features kumquats, which are given as gifts and eaten for good luck.

And this is all only in the first 72 hours, long before we get the heavy hitters of Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. Not sure how much these holidays mean any more as we tiptoe deeper into the 21st century. Someday maybe they’ll be the grandchild of a Wiki entry that says, “In a blog in 2011, M.A.Peel looked at some of quaint 20th century communal ideas that made their way into the very beginnings of the 21st century, in what was then The United States of America.”