Today is 1st February, and traditionally in Ireland this was considered to be the first day of Spring. It falls midway between the winter solstice (21st Dec) and the spring equinox (21st Mar). It marks the turning of the season and is the feast day of Brigid, whether you see her as a goddess, an aspect of the Mother Goddess or the Christian saint. There is a lot I could – and will – write about Imbolc and what it means to me, but that’s for another post.
Imbolc and the arrival of spring signal renewal, rejuvenation, a fresh start. I love watching for the first spring flowers. The spring bulbs are peeping through all over the garden, such vibrant shades of green
I haven’t heard of any ritual foods or dishes associated with Imbolc, but Brigid in her Christian form is the patroness of sheep, and an alternative name for the day, Óimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk. The new lambs are always a welcome and lively sight in spring too. This feels like a cleansing time of year – hence the spring clean? – and when thinking about Imbolc this morning I decided to make some lemon curd. Lemon is one of my favourite flavours and scents and the clean tang of lemon appealed to me in keeping with freshness. So after a couple of hours in the kitchen I came up with some lemon and some orange curd. You can see the lemon here. The orange didn’t set quite so well but still tasted great! I made an orange sponge cake filled with it.
For dinner I settled on a Darina Allen recipe, Winter Beef Stew – well having a winter meal and a spring inspired dessert seemed as good a way as any other to mark this turning of the season. There is still some snow on the ground, and the gritter went by earlier, but it is spring. Its time to move out of the reflective, restorative period of winter and move into the renewal, rebirth of spring.
I know I have been talking about my Year of Living Seasonally on here from time to time but seriously, how the hell is it nearly February already? It seems like only a few days ago since my husband went back to work and our daughter back to school – more like 3 weeks ago. I was pondering this while gazing out at the falling snow earlier, mug of tea firmly clasped in hand. This January (2015 in case anyone’s reading this in years to come) has been a bit of an mixed bag weather wise. Its been cold, we’ve had some snow (not much really), some very strong winds and now its gorgeously sunny and bracing out there. But it hasn’t felt like a typical January to me. Is that because I am trying to slow down and notice things more? If that’s the case then why has the end of the month snuck up on me? Time to take stock I think.
So what did I do in January? Well, I’ve been working on a new course to teach, picked up another rotten cold which I then shared with everyone else (why should I suffer alone??), didn’t make any New Year resolutions (not my thing – see here), got more into knitting, read a few books…… yeah it was a good enough month all told. But it seems to have just slipped by me in some ways. Aha! That’s the slowing down and taking time thing isn’t it? This Year of Living Seasonally lark must be starting to kick in. January is a cold month, evenings still dark, weather can be dodgy, so its a good time to chill and hibernate a bit. THAT’S what I’ve been doing – I just didn’t realise it.
Imbolc is just around the corner. I feel its time to step up a gear.
I’m not sure exactly when or why the idea of living seasonally took hold with me but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few weeks. It occurs to me that for all that I live in a rural part of the world, and grow vegetables and fruit and mark certain calendar occasions, I am a bit distanced from actually LIVING seasonally. So what do I mean by living seasonally? If you Google the term ‘living seasonally’ a lot of sites come up, many of them to do with food – cooking seasonal produce and not using food that has been shipped halfway around the world just so we can have strawberries and asparagus all year round. Other sites focus on the natural cycles of night and day, of the moon and of the seasons and how they can impact on our health and wellbeing. I found Mountain Spring Herbals very interesting on this front. There are a number of sites which look at the idea of living seasonally from a homesteading/simpler life perspective. One I like is Little House in the Suburbs, escaping from the Rat Race has long appealed to me and its no surprise that The Good Life has long been one of my favourite TV programmes.
But back to living seasonally. How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t know where this year has gone” or “How can it be [insert relevant month here] already?” My beloved and much-missed Granny always said that time – and by this she meant the years – passed more quickly as you got older. At 43 I now understand what she meant. I am frequently running to catch up with myself, always jumping from one project to the next, never taking time to really stop. Anyone reading this who knows me well is well aware of this! But I’m getting tired of that and I need to change things a bit. So for the next year I’m going to live seasonally as much as I can. You could call it living in the moment either I suppose. As someone who is fascinated by history, by myth and legend my head spends a fair amount of time in the past. On the other hand my involvement in my community and interest in politics keeps my head looking to the future a lot. None of which leaves a whole lot of time for the here and now.
My version of living seasonally – and this is just what suits me, its not a prescription for anyone else to follow – is to spend more time aware of the seasons, of the changes. Over the next year I will try to spend some time outside every day. I will explore ways of marking certain calendar dates and rituals that appeal to me, without strictly adhering to any one belief system. I will try and eat more seasonally (and hopefully better). Cooking is no hardship for me, I love trying out new recipes and new ingredients. I will observe the physical changes each season brings to my little piece of the planet. And I will come on here and share it all with you!
I’ve titled this post a Year of Living Seasonally which implies this will finish in a year – 365 days, 12 months, 4 seasons whatever way you like to mark the passage of time. That is my plan. I’m starting this project in 2 days time – this is just a little taster – when here in Ireland and in other countries too – it will be Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve. But it is also the festival – or cross quarter day – of Samhain, which for many marks the start of the Celtic New Year. Many of the Pagan or Wiccan persuasions also mark this festival as the start of the year.
Now I could here get into a whole big long discussion about how we mark the passing of time and how dates and calendars are somewhat artificial but I won’t (I might come back to that in the future though). Suffice it to say that I like this time of year – the start of the darker half of the year, the approach of winter, the end of the harvest season and I like to mark it as the start of a new year. (I mark the more usual New Year in January too). Its a time to reflect, to rest, to ponder the quietness and the darkness that winter ushers in. That’s what I need to do right now. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.
I used to make resolutions every New Year. They weren’t terribly original, lose weight (uh yeah no progress there), get fit (see above), become more organised (getting somewhere with this one), etc etc etc. Now there are lots of reasons why I – and let’s face it most of us – don’t keep our New Year resolutions and I’m not going to list them here, any magazine or newspaper will have had at least one article along these lines over the last while. But it occurred to me a few years ago that one possible reason why I’ve never managed to keep said resolutions is that 31st December doesn’t really sit well with me. I’ve never been a fan of big NYE parties, or of gathering together with a bunch of randomers to watch the clock turn round, and I cringe at Auld Lang Syne. (I’m always reminded of Queen Elizabeth’s expression at the millenium celebrations)
I love Christmas/Yuletide/Midwinter/whatever you’re having yourself and mark a lot of festival days throughout the year in my own little way. So its not that I’m a bah humbug (or whatever the NYE equivalent would be). I am a demon for making to-do lists and plans and schemes so resolutions should come easy to me. I think there’s two reasons why 31st Dec doesn’t really do it for me. Firstly, and this is something that I have become more aware of in the last few years, its an artificial time to start a year. Its the middle of a season, so not a natural time for a break or change. The Celtic New Year happens at Samhain – 1st Nov. Its the traditional start of winter but rather than being a time to start new projects or plans, Samhain is a time to reflect and relax, to look inward and to retreat somewhat. Most definitely not a time for making big changes.
Secondly, its just another day – there is nothing special about New Year’s except that the calendar changes from one year to the next. And remember that the naming and numbering of days months and years is just a structure that humankind has created. It could be argued that it bears no relation to anything in nature and the passing of the seasons. I love history and as such am very aware of dates, centuries and the passing of time. But to create a big celebration around the fact that a system we have created in order to keep track of events has just done what it does each day seems a little odd to me.
And that’s why I think I’ve never had much success with New Year’s resolutions. Its too artificial for me. That’s not to say my mind doesn’t stray to all kinds of ideas and plans in late December but I don’t make any resolutions anymore. Talk to me at Imbolc though and that might be a whole other thing…….
I have a wide range of interests and every now and then I get to indulge some of them 🙂 Yesterday 1st Feb) was Imbolc, one of the ancient Irish cross-quarter days. So with one of my other heads on (I’m a bit like Worzel Gummidge at times!) I wrote a blog piece for my business about the feast of Imbolc and a study day I did recently. Enjoy! Beyond the Blarney's latest blog post