Posted by: christinelaennec | February 1, 2015

St Brigid’s Day and Candlemas

Tilly watches the hungry birds.  End of January 2015.

Tilly watches the hungry birds. End of January 2015.

In her book Garden in the Hills, Katharine Stewart devotes an essay each to February 1st (St. Brigid’s Day) and February 2nd (Candlemas).  Four years ago, I wrote a post covering Imbolc, the start of the pagan year, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas and Groundhog’s Day, all of which take place on February 1st and 2nd.

Katharine Smith writes “This [February 1st] is the festival of St. Bride.  Her name is the Christianised version of the Celtic goddess of spring – Brighid…  The time of Brighid was a celebration of the first signs of returning light and life, after the darkest of the winter was past, a time of creative impulse and energy.”  She then goes on to write that, as St. Bride was the saint of milkmaids, she gave the name Bride to her Sanaan goat, “she of the golden eyes and the elegant, capering legs”.  “She came into milk about the time of Bride’s day, always giving an adequate supply, on a diet largely composed of natural herbage.”  (p. 37)

She wrote, “This year St. Bride’s Day dawns incredibly bright.”  We, too, have had some beautiful sunny winter’s days.

Jacob the Redbird of Happiness, a gift from Roobeedoo and made from her handspun Jacob fleece!

Jacob the Redbird of Happiness, a gift from Roobeedoo and made from her handspun Jacob fleece!

At the same time as the sunny days, we have also had a lot of precipitation, rain and snow – 7″ in my rain gauge this month.

Stewart described the walks she took with a friend:  “We can take our pick of walks from this particular spot – along the peat-road onto the hill above the tree-line, where the old peat-workings are filled with water now; the old ‘funeral road’, the way that was used to carry the coffins shoulder-high to the horse-drawn hearse waiting at the foot, or along the track to the old crofting settlement where only one house still stands.”

The walks available to me in Glasgow are not so open as the ones she took in Abriachan, but I can easily imagine them.  There are peat-roads all over the Highlands, less worked now than in former days.  When I first came to this country, I wondered why, in seemingly empty landscapes, you would see stacks of blue and green plastic bags in certain spots.  I came to understand that these were recycling feed bags holding the peats that people had laboriously cut, stacked, and dried.  The “coffin-road” is familiar to me, too, from my time in Harris.  Why a coffin road?  It’s because of the geography and the history of the Highlands.  During the time of the Clearances, those Highlanders who didn’t emigrate were pushed onto the rockiest, least profitable land, so that the landowners could graze sheep on the best land.  The rocky land is so hard that graves cannot be dug, so people had to bury their dead at some distance, where the earth allowed for a graveyard.  And the old crofting settlement where only one house still stands – how many ghostly ruined villages does one come across while hill-walking in Scotland?  It is a sad and common sight.

Stewart also writes about the supernatural.  It’s hard to say whether she believes it’s a possibility or not:  “I can understand how people living in these idyllic places… dependent on things beyond their control – gale, snow, flood – could well imagine that there were creatures around which were also beyond their control, beyond their ken.  A man from these parts, who became a minister of the church… told me not long ago that, as a young boy sent to herd the cattle in a green place not far below the house, he encountered a small group of ‘fairy folk’.  He took the cattle home and went excitedly to tell his mother what he had seen.  She promptly gave him a skelping for telling lies.  He firmly believed, for the rest of his days, in what he had seen.”  (p. 40)

Are there fairies in the garden?  A friend says that the stones around the pond are probably from Ailsa Craig granite, the same that they make curling stones from.

Are there fairies in the garden? A friend says that the stones around the pond are probably from Ailsa Craig granite, the same that they make curling stones from.

Stewart also touches on adoption and fostering:  “Until quite recently the people of the crofts often brought up orphan children along with their own.  Fostering had been widely practised in the old days.  The chief’s son would often be reared in quite humble homes, thus forging a link between members of the clan.” (40 -41)  Now, as an adoptive mother, I find that very fascinating.  How different it must have been to live a society where children were to some extent communally reared, and where it was considered important for the clan chief to have experienced the challenges of ordinary life?  Compare that to our atomised everyone-for-themselves society, and the placement of a child often in a succession of foster homes, or perhaps with a “forever Mummy and Daddy”  – knowing both that it takes a village to raise a child, and that about 50% of non-stepparent adoptions break down?

Stewart’s entry for February 2nd shows the link between Candlemas (the day when church candles were traditionally blessed) and the idea behind Groundhog’s Day.  She quotes a rhyme her neighbour used to recite every year:

Candlemas day, gin thou be fair  [Candlemas day, if you are fair]

The hauf o’ winter’s to come and mair [Half of winter is to come, and more]

Candlemas day, gin thou be foul  [Candlemas day, if you are foul]

The warst o’ winter’s ower at Youl.  [The worst of winter was over at Yuletide.]

On the year that Stewart was writing, her Candlemas day was very fair indeed, and she spent a happy time working in the garden.  She concludes “It has been a good day, come what may.”

Despite freezing weather, some of the spring bulbs are starting to come up.

Despite freezing weather, some of the spring bulbs are starting to come up.

I shall have to see what weather Candlemas Day brings to us tomorrow.  In addition to candle-blessing and weather-predicting, at our house it is a day of a bit of celebration:  this year, 27 years of Michael’s and my marriage.

Happy February, everyone!



  1. From the short excerpt about walks I can imagine the countryside she walked through. Reading your post made me feel refreshed, as if I’d had a walk in the highlands myself. I like the idea of the chief’s son being reared in humble homes. I wonder what sort of a difference it would make to society if the privileged today had that early experience. A very happy anniversary to you and Michael!

  2. What a lovely post for today: lots to think about. Happy St.Bride’d day to you! She is the saint of our local church, where the priest gave thanks this morning for a beautiful bright day (after a bad storm last night). I don’t suppose he knew the rhyme!

  3. A post with lots of different issues raised!

    It made me wonder how you accurately measure precipitation if it’s frozen?

    Fostering by the community is an interesting concept, and indeed the whole idea of a unified community – which is now largely lost or at least dramatically changed. The concept of community does seem to still exist to some extent, but perhaps no longer bound by geographic limitations. I see some groups with common religious/national identity trying to hold themselves together and pass on a sense of responsibility to the group and to behave in certain group-approved ways . Personally, I don’t feel too comfortable with the old concept of community. I’m not sure if that’s due to my modernity or simply my misanthropic nature, but I don’t really want to have other people having a big input into the way I live my life. I do, however, think we have communal responsibilities and obligations, but these are now global rather than local.
    In relation to this, I have no idea of the best way to bring up children. I have three children who have reached adulthood but I wouldn’t say that I have learnt anything about the child-rearing process. I can see plenty of things I did wrong, and heaps of “opportunities for improvement”, as they say these days.

    Happy anniversary! I too was married in February (but a few years before you).

  4. Hello, friend. I’ve missed you. Just wanted to stop by and say so. It’s a late wish, but happy, happy new year. ;^)

  5. Oh I am so glad you shared all of this, and I believe the minister saw what he saw. I think those things happen to people who are open to those beliefs. How awesome. You really make me want to see Scotland someday.

  6. Happy anniversary to you both and wishing you many more of them. 😀 In our family, a family tree is difficult as there are so many ‘adopted’ children, my dad’s ‘aunt’ was adopted as she was one child too many for a neighbour and one of my dads sisters (he has a few) was also born into another family but brought up as his sister in his family. My husbands family has similar in his family background too. I think it’s lovely that in the past people could do what was best for a child without the interferance of ‘officialdom’. However, I daresay there were less successful adoptions too. A very interesting and thought provoking post. x

  7. I do agree it takes a village to raise a child – I grew up with a large extended family and my cousins and I were always in and out of each other’s homes, often spending school holidays all together (keeping our parents and uncles and aunts on their toes!). My partner and I live away from our families now – the closest are my brother and a couple of cousins in London – so I know it won’t be the same when I have children. But I guess friends are a family too; we just have to make up our own little communities wherever we are. Happy February, and a very happy anniversary!

  8. Happy anniversary! And it’s lovely to see Tilly looking out at the snowy garden – and being nice and warm indoors.

  9. Happy anniversary, wishing you both many more happy years together. A very interesting thought provoking post, I really enjoyed it.

  10. Thank you everyone! We really enjoyed our anniversary.

    tearoom delights, yes wouldn’t it be a different world if our leaders had a “humble” upbringing. I was reminded of a tv programme showing Michael Portillo trying to live for a week on benefit…

    dancingbeastie, how special that St. Bride is the saint of your church! I wonder how common a thing that is in Scotland?

    oldblack, when I emptied the rain gauge it was water rather than ice – otherwise I agree it would be impossible to know! Interesting to read your reservations about living in community, and the pressures that can be brought by pack mentality. What you say about childrearing reminds me of the quote by 17th-century John Wilmot: “Before I married I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.” There is so much truth in that! A happy anniversary to you both, when it comes.

    Happy New Year to you, Relyn! I hope your J is recovering well.

    Lucinda, I agree that these things tend to happen to people who are open to them. There is so much more that we can’t be sure of, in this life, compared to things that we “know”.

    marksgran, how interesting to read about the adoptions in both your families. My mother has an adopted sister. She was taken in when her mother died and the children couldn’t all be cared for by their father. No social workers were involved in those days.

    Sakthi, I do believe that friends can be as much family as related family. More so, even!

    Flora, the temperature in the porch is pretty low but she doesn’t seem to mind for shorter periods of time.

    Lorraine, thank you and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  11. Happy Anniversary, Christine…belatedly…and I am so glad to read that you and Michael had a good celebration!
    My youngest daughter was able to participate in a medical missions project in Fiji where she observed first hand villages helping to raise children. In adopting our sons and birthing our daughters we were grateful for the help we received from our church family, a bit of a village for us.
    Seeing Jacob the Red Bird of Happiness cheers me as well : ) and Tilly birdwatching! xx

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