In the dead of winter with the days growing longer at a painfully slow pace and the clutch of the cold still tight on everything comes the the ancient Gaelic holiday of Imbolc. Over the centuries it has reincarnated as St Bridget’s Day or Candlemas. Imbolc was originally considered to be the beginning of spring and one tradition is of giving the house a thorough cleaning. I’m a big believer that this holiday is a good excuse for spring cleaning, even though much of the northern hemisphere still in winter. That’s actually when the house being shut up and the heating system on all the time blowing dust about calls out for cleaning and refreshing.
I made a ritual out of it as I always do and dedicated the whole day, so as to get a thorough job done an not be drawn away by errands or appointments. I incorporated the candle aspect of the day by lighting a large white candle. I used one of the jar ones. they last a long time and are easily moved. White candles often come with a vanilla scent which adds to the atmosphere. Since I moved to a house with a fireplace I start with the fireplace. I used to start with the kitchen stove. Traditionally, the hearth is the center of the home. I cleaned out the hearth and in my newly cleaned fireplace made a nice arrangement of the greens I used to decorate for the holiday season to start a fire. I don’t do a tree because of the cats but use wreaths and sprays and ropes so they go into the fireplace nicely. Then I began with a regular cleaning, sweeping, dusting, tidying up of the living room, dining room and hall. The smell of the fireplace, candle and beeswax furniture polish start to fill the house.
Next came the bedroom and the office , taking the candle along to shed it’s warmth and light and repeated the process. At this time I refresh the lavender sachets in the linens and sprinkle lavender and catnip in the cats’ beds. The bathroom and the kitchen were the last. This is because of needing to use cleaners to clean those places. You have to be careful about cleaners with cats, I only use bleach and baking soda and vinegar in the bathroom so after I finished I lit a scented votive to banish any smell of bleach and closed the door as I always do. The kitchen got the same treatment except I can’t close any doors there but I left the jar candle on the stove after I finished. When the house was done I made myself a nice strong cup of tea, sat and relaxed, enjoying the new energy circulating through the house.
Since I knew it would be a full and tiring day from experience I took out my slow cooker before I started. When I was still eating meat I would roast lamb or mutton but I’m back to being vegetarian now and instead chose to make a sunny soup. I have several I think of this way, a tomato with garlic and tarragon, one of orange lentils from the Indian market with turmeric and curry powder and an apricot based fruit soup, but this year given the rawness of the weather, it was a spicy sweet potato soup.
Finally after my tea break and my soup I brought out my big basket I use to gather herbs. In it were the packets of seeds I’ve saved from the prior harvest. I renewed the fire and gave thanks for the beauty and pleasure of the greens and the warmth they were now providing. It is traditional to replace the evergreens and holly with box as in Robert Herrick’s lovely poem “Ceremonies upon Candlemas Eve”, but here there is none to be had. Instead of redecorating, I took up my basket of seeds and asked for the blessing of warmth and Sun to grow them in the coming spring. When this was done they are returned to the basket handy for me to begin starting them indoors over the coming weeks. After clearing the table and feeding the cats (they get a special dinner, too) we all just sat and enjoyed the fire and the candlelight and the peace of the day.
CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.