Monday, 7 February 2011

Candlemas Day

I'm always intrigued by folk tales about nature and particularly ones relating to weather -  red sky at night, St.Swithun's Day, cows lying down etc and their their bearing on reality. Whether they are relevant or not I can't help sharing them with the bemused children. Today I read a new folk tale based around the weather on Candlemas day by Paul Brown in the Guardian...

There was a brief moment of sunshine on Candlemas Day – 2 February – but any animal emerging from hibernation would have been lucky to surface at the right moment to see its shadow.
According to folklore then, the worst of the winter is over. The date is significant because it is half way between the winter solstice and spring equinox. In both heathen and Christian calendars it is a day for lighting candles and celebrating the return of the light. There are many weather rhymes associated with the festival. All have the same theme: sunny and cold is bad news, windy and wet is good. "If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter won't come again", is perhaps the best known.
The Irish have a Gaelic hag who can make 2 February sunny so that she can gather plenty of sticks for her fire for the rest of a long winter. If she forgets to do this or oversleeps the weather is wet and windy, thus bringing winter to a rapid end because of her lack of firewood.
The story about the animal spotting its shadow comes from a German tradition about badgers. They immediately return for another sleep if it is sunny on 2 February because they know the winter will continue. Despite lack of badgers this tradition crossed the Atlantic and became Groundhog Day. It is all completely unreliable, but surprisingly consistent across Europe and North America.
So if the legend is right winter is not quite over yet. Curiously I did see some rustling movement in the undergrowth on Long Road last week, followed it and found a little brown mouse staring boldly at me from the inside of a log, I thought he might have come out of hibernation early, only to discover mice don't hibernate...but do tend towards human habitation when its cold....maybe he should have headed back.

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