February 1st or 2nd is an ancient Celtic holiday. Since my DNA test informed me that I am 40% Celtic (a mix of Scottish, Irish and Welsh), I have taken increased interest in the eight holidays on the Celtic Wheel of the Year. It is divided by four earth holidays and four sky holidays, beginning with Samhain (Hallowe’en),.the Celtic New Year. It is followed by Yul at the winter solstice, Imbolc at the beginning of February, Ostara at the Spring equinox, Beltain the first of May, Litha at the summer solstice, Lughnasadh or Lammas the first of August, and Mabon at the vernal equinox. Since the Celts were all over Europe, if your ancestry is at least partly European, you probably have at least a few drops of Celtic blood in your veins as well.
Imbolc mean’s ewe’s milk, or lambing time, as a harbinger of spring. In ancient times it was a housecleaning day, removing all the greens (or browns!) left over from Yul and re-lighting the housefires in anticipation of spring. If you haven’t finished taking down your Christmas decorations, this is the time! It is also celebrated as Saint Brigid’s Day, an Irish saint whose previous incarnation was as the great Goddess in her maiden state (the others being the mother and the crone).
This holiday survives in an odd but appropriate way in Groundhog Day. There are lots of ways to celebrate, but I am intrigued with a holiday that celebrates housecleaning as well as the end of hibernation. Or not, depending on what Punxsutawney Phil has to say. (If you have been doing a lot of hibernating, chances are your cave needs a thorough airing out!) We have been in a COVID-induced hibernation for almost two years now, but this Imbolc is special because we hear increasing forecasts of a steady (or rapid!) downturn in the pandemic in the next month or so. Regardless of whether the groundhog sees his shadow, we need to prepared ourselves to re-enter a post-COVID world that has changed dramatically in these two years.
Perhaps by Ostara on (appropriately) March 20th, we can figure out what is our own new normal. It will definitely involve more hybrid meetings, more working from home, and less travel. It is likely that many of us adopted habits during the pandemic that involve more solitude and found that we liked those new habits better. Many people changed their minds about working and consumerism. We all learned to be aware of the balance we choose between safety and risk and the implications of our choices for those with whom we come in contact. We have a new appreciation for the difference between encountering one another on Zoom and in person. We recognize the fragility of some of our cherished institutions, especially religious and social organizations that have struggled to survive quarantining.
I am always drawn to the idea of new beginnings. I’m up for celebrating not just the turning of the calendar on January 1st but also Chinese New Year, April Fool’s day (from the calendar change that moved the new year back to January), a new year of my life every July 1st, a new school year, Jewish and Celtic new year, and for traditional Christians, a new year that begins with Advent four weeks before Christmas.
This year I want to celebrate a new year on March 20th that will hopefully mark a change in the way we spend our days and invest our time and resources in what matters most to us. From Groundhog Day to Ostara can be a Celtic Lent in which to assess, prepare, and plan for the post-pandemic world. How will your way of being in the world be different after Ostara? What kinds of housecleaning are needed to make that happen?