The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Some people ascribe this saying to Yule time. I can still remember Andy Williams crooning this tune over and over again on the radio and now across the airwaves and decades. While I won’t argue that the song was written with December in mind, for me it is all about Imbolc. And what comes next.
I remember going to church in early February as a child. It was an odd experience for me: it wasn’t necessarily Sunday; there weren’t many people there; and I really had no context for the holiday. It was for the blessing of throats in the Roman Catholic Church. Two candles were held in the form of a Greek Cross (an equal-armed cross looking like an X or a Chi) and placed under thee throat as the supplicant kneeled. The priest would then say: “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness.”
Candle as Blessing
I had no reason to doubt the efficacy of the blessing nor did I doubt the applicability of the treatment. It was years later that I discovered the Saint Blaise was a Armenian bishop and martyr who, as a physician, healed people and their souls and also animals that sought him out. I loved candles as a child, but my mother did not allow the burning of candles in the house, so I had to wait until I left said house to light candles with impunity.
As time went by in my young life, I began to notice that a number of things – important things – happened on the 2nd of February. I started dating one of my old girlfriends on the 2nd. One of my college roommates, Krunch, was born on the 2nd. Over and over again, I found that this date kept coming up time and time again. I started working in Chicago in the Loop on the 2nd; important news about college arrived on the 2nd; I discovered a very interesting Goddess whose feast day was celebrated near the 2nd, and that Goddess was Brighid.
Another Feast of Candles
When I discovered Brighid and her feast day at Imbolc, I finally found a context of devotion and practice that fit in with my conception of what these should be. Saint Blaise didn’t resonate with me, but I had no other paradigm, I knew of no other option. When I discovered Brighid, I found a Goddess – which did resonate with me – as opposed to a Bishop about whom I knew little and about whom I cared even less. Just because someone has a candle doesn’t mean they know what to do with it. As a matter of fact, the candles of Saint Blaise weren’t even lit!
Blessings the candles at Imbolc would extend and spread those blessings the whole year long. At the time, I wasn’t in the mind set of lighting ritual candles and letting them burn all the way down. I would use the candles for a given ritual, extinguish them at the end, and then use them again for the next high day.
The Longest Night
Before I went off to college, I remember going for long walks during Yule time. I would walk through the snowy, quiet streets and just walk and walk. I found solace in the many holiday lights that seemed to push through the darkness of that time of year. Too often, right after the Solstice holidays, give or take a week, the lights would come down and the world would be plunged into darkness – the darkness of the Winter Solstice: short days, and very long nights. I yearned for the sun and the return of the light.
EquinoxThe arrival of the Spring Equinox signified the official end to the Season of Greater Darkness. The days were longer than the nights and I reveled in the fact that Beltaine was on the way. I operated under this understanding for quite a few years and I for the most prt held my seasonal breath from Yule to Springtime.
A Step Backwards, Kind of
As my work with Brighid continued to grow, she took a place in my daily devotionals. I began to look forward to Imbolc and her Feast. I love that Imbolc and Brighid and Lughnasadh and Lugh were counterbalanced across the year, and across the hemispheres. The candles of Imbolc and the bonfires of Lughnasadh emphasize the fire nature of these cross-quarters. The more I worked with the candles of Imbolc, the more I focused on their light and the shine that they brought to the season. I lit the candles in darkness to bless them and their brilliance stayed with me that night, the next day, and it the weeks to come. No matter how dark the day or the night, I continued to see and feel the bright from the family of flames that awakened on Imbolc.
I typically leave the house before sunrise during the Imbolc season and I head home right around sunset. It occurred to me, quite unexpectedly, that in those morning and evening moments looking at the sky, that the sun was rising earlier and setting later each day. This was progress that I did not expect and that I now held onto as proof that the progression of the seasons and High Days was moving along and that I was escaping the Yule time doldrums much earlier than I had ever expected before.
Keep the Lights Burning
I have said for a very long time that people should leave their Yule lights up until the Vernal Equinox. The dreariness of the darkness is alleviated, in my mind, by the presence and brightness of the many hues and shades of brightness emanating from these lights. Now, with LED technology, the amount of electricity used is less than before. I don’t expect the average person to keep the colours lit for three months, but it will brighten not only their immediate surroundings, but the entire neighborhood. It is sympathetic magic of a luminous variety.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Give me Imbolc, it is my most favourite time of the year. The light opens from Imbolc all the way to Summer Solstice, where it slowly and almost imperceptibly starts to wane, past the fires of Lughnasadh to slip into shadow at the Autumnal Equinox. My candles are no longer at my neck, but held aloft, to show the sky fire and light. They hope for fire and light in return. Longer the days, shorter the nights, Earth Mother, the life slowly returns in our part of the world.