Friday, 13 February 2015

Half Way To Spring...

These days, the big February festival would seem to be Valentine's day, mainly because this celebration is easily commercialised and has been since the 19th century.

In the Northern Isles, however, Candlemas, which falls on the 2nd of February, was far more important to young people. We have blogged before about some of the strange rituals young Orcadian lasses followed when trying to find the identity of their future husband. According to local folklorist, historian and archivist's dream, Ernest Walker Marwick, Isles folk would have "thought it soft to send a love token" but that didn't stop the young women from following a Candesmas ritual:

"It was at Candlemas that the lasses chased the crows. In the grey dawn of a winter morning, a maiden would steal forth with a fluttering heart, and give chase to the first 'craw' she chanced to see, and anxiously watch in what direction it flew, for there dwelt her husband to be, and there lay her future home."

Candlemas was also very important as that was the very first day that ploughing could commence in Orkney. It was also an immovable date (40 days after the birth of Jesus) from which all other Easter holidays could be calculated:

"First hid comes Candlemas Day,
And than the new mune;
And than hid come Brose Day
If hid wis ever so sune,
An than there's forty days
Atween Brose Day and Pase Day (Easter)
The forty days o' Lent."

Lastly, the other significance of this date to the islanders was as a weather predictor:

"If Candlemas Day is fair and clear
There'll be twa winters in the year."

Groundhog day in America also falls on the 2nd of February and has a similar significance. If it is cloudy when the Groundhog emerges then winter shall soon be over. If it is sunny enough for the creature to cast a shadow and startle himself back into his den then six more weeks of winter are to be endured.

We have been complaining about the weather a lot recently which is most unlike us, but we were very cheered to see several candle-lit windows in Orkney this winter. Flickering flame or battery powered plastic both lifted the spirits during this stormy winter. When discussing this candle profusion with a customer she said:

"I always light a candle every morning from the Winter Solstice to Candlemas." We liked this idea so much that it inspired this post.

Before calendar re-jigs, the 13th of December was the date of the Winter Solstice and that is when the Scandanavian festival St Lucy's day is celebrated in Kirkwall.

On these cold, Northern rocks, you sometimes need a bit of light to keep you going through the long, dark nights.

Lighting Candles In Midwinter

Saint Lucy, see
Seven bright leaves in the winter tree

Seven diamonds shine
In the deepest darkest mine

Seven fish go, a glimmering shoal
Under the ice of the North Pole

Sweet St Lucy, be kind
To us poor and wintered and blind.

George Mackay Brown

Information taken from Orkney Archive reference: D31/BBC/6

Lighting Candles In Midwinter taken from The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, Edited by Archie Bevan and Brian Murray.

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