The End of Hibernation?

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?

Hibernation Time and the New Year

My family departed for home Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning, so I have been in hibernation mode since 9 a.m. on the 25th.  These seven post-Solstice, post- Christmas days  (my family always celebrates on the 24th ), are my wintering time.  It is when I, like TV specials and pundits, reflect on the year past, but it is also the time when I set my course for the year to come.

My wintering or hibernation (the noun winter is German, but hiver is the French word for winter)  is about rest and renewal, about letting go and taking on, about reflecting on the departing year and planning for the new one.  I mostly stay at home, using up the Christmas leftovers and undecorating the house, reading my Christmas books and doing one of my Christmas jigsaw puzzles. I write in my journal with a focus on the year past and the year to come, including New Year’s resolutions, which I have been doing since elementary school.  ( I remember when I was ten, I resolved to learn to light the gas stove. It didn’t have a pilot light, so it involved  a match, and I found it scary. To this day I am an electric range person.)

Over time my resolutions have become more abstract and complex. They all involve self-improvement. Even at 80 there are improvements to be made. I am deeply engaged in virtue ethics, so my guides to living wisely and well are the four attitude virtues of hope, trust, lovingkindness, and gratitude , and the behavioral virtues of self-care, prudence (practical wisdom), simplicity, and  mindfulness.  The arenas in which those virtues are played out are lifelong learning, vocation (write-teach-preach-lead-serve), and cultivating healthy relationships. My daily journal is the ongoing record of my intentions and my performance. 

What about surprises? There are always plenty of those. In 2021, COVID changed my travel plans.  I rethought some of my volunteer commitments and rearranged them to better it my lifestyle, especially that part of my lifestyle that involves sleeping from 9 to 5 and driving after dark as seldom as possible.  Self-care surprised me with an unplanned but very rewarding journey with NOOM to lose 25 pounds. I lost a cat, a dog, and most sadly, a brother.  I lost friends, some to death, others to relationships that no longer worked, but was surprised to acquire two new ones (one to hike with, one to travel with) and strengthen the bonds of several old friendships. Man (and woman) plan, and God laughs. Like Columbus, I set my course for India and found a new world along the way.

So, I invite you to a few final days of hibernation and reflection before returning to the daily round. What was your year 2021 like? What did you learn and change, gain and lose? What are your hopes for 2022, personally and collectively? What are you grateful for, concerned about, desirous of changing? As the days begin to lengthen again, and the signs daffodils and crocuses appear, may you be rested and renewed, armed with faith, hope and good intentions for the year that begins in just three days.

How Many New Years?

 

I persuaded my oldest daughter to get married on December 31st.  My persuasive arguments? Her sister and brother-in-law would be home for the holidays, they could file a joint tax return, and when they celebrated their wedding anniversary, the whole world would celebrate with them. This year they will have their 25th new beginning as a married couple, a new beginning that starts with a holiday.

January 1st is an arbitrary date, marking the end of the Roman Saturnalia that began with the winter solstice.  Chinese New Year is in February.  On the old style calendar New Year’s Day fell in France on what is now April 1st.  Those who failed to switch and continued to celebrate the old date were—you guessed it—April fools. The Jewish New Year is in the fall, and the Celtic new year began with Samhain, which morphed into Hallowe’en.  Both traditions defined their days from dusk to dusk, so it was fitting that they celebrated the expected return of the light in late December  by going into the darkness after the autumnal equinox.

Each of us has other new years as well.  My birthday is June 30th, the last day of the state fiscal year. (It used to be the last day of the federal fiscal year, but Congress had too much trouble getting a budget passed in time, so they moved it up six months.  Now they never get a budget passed in time.)  So a new year in my life begins every July 1st, and as an economist specializing in state and local public finance, I am pleased to know that it coincides with a new fiscal year.

From age 5 to age 75, my life was also guided by the academic calendar as I progressed from kindergarten o college professor.  Our academic contracts took effect August 15th.  One year I held a new year’s eve party for a group of professor friends on August 14th. Back to school is definitely a new beginning each fall for students and teachers alike, leaving behind the failings of the previous year, committing to do better, and building on the learning of the year before.

While we associate New Year’s Day with parades, football games and in the south, collard greens, for many of us it is a chance to start over, a new beginning.  In the Celtic tradition one casts away those experiences, habits, grudges, complaints, that we do not want to carry as baggage into the new year. On the positive side, we can make resolutions.  The advantage of celebrating multiple new years instead of just one is that we have more than one chance to start over. Your diet and exercise plan or commitment to keeping a journal or promise to call your parents every week didn’t last until the end of January?  No problem.  You can begin again on Chinese New Year, the old French New Year, your birthday, the new school year, and/or the Jewish or Celtic New Year.  It’s never too late, or too early, to start over.

A Happy New Year, and many more in 2019.