Symmetry. It’s pleasing to the eye. And significant dates are often the basis for holidays. Today is one of those extremely rare palindrome days. As my wife pointed out to me 02-02-2020 is a configuration that hasn’t occurred since 01-01-1010, or over a millennium ago. The next one will be after we’re all long gone, on 03-03-3030. Not only that, but today is part of a holiday cluster. It’s Groundhog Day. Yesterday was Imbolc, the Celtic cross-quarter day initiating spring. Imbolc is also known as St. Brigid’s Day. Today is called Candlemas, by liturgical Christian tradition. We are living through a truly unique day. Every day, I suppose, is unique, but the spirits are afoot today.
I’ve written about Groundhog Day before. With its prognosticating rodent, it tells us if spring is on the way or if it’s going to be delayed. Imbolc falls about halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. In Celtic cultures this was a cross-quarter day, a time of uncanniness. Spirits cross between worlds on days such as this. In days of yore, it was also the feast of the goddess Brigid. Christianity has always been an opportunistic religion. When missionaries to places like Scotland and Ireland couldn’t convince the locals to give up their deities, they made saints of them. St. Brigid is a fabrication of a Celtic goddess, not an actual saint. For similar reasons in the quarter-year counterpart to Imbolic, Samhain, the church moved All Saints Day to November 1 and All Souls to November 2. The Celts continued using the trappings of their cross-quarter day and eventually gave us Halloween. Imbolc never caught on in quite the same way.
The early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born. Christmas was established on December 25 because of all of the solstice celebrations at that time of year. All that pagan jubilation had to be subsumed under a more solemn occasion. Building on that mythical date, New Year’s Day was January 1 because that’s when Jesus would have been circumcised, eight days later. Thirty-three days after a male child’s circumcision, a woman was to make an offering for purification in the temple. According to Luke, Mary did this, and 33 days after January 1, in keeping with our fictional date-keeping, is February 2. A tradition grew that Christians would bring their candles to church to be blessed that day (Jesus being the light of the world). This blessing of candles was named Candlemas. I first encountered it at Nashotah House, where it was still celebrated even as a sleepy woodchuck in Punxsutawney was rubbing his eyes. Not exactly a palindrome, but there’s a remarkable symmetry to it, no?