Ground Hog/Candlemas Day* is past and it is still the season for mittens and hot chocolate. We don’t ordinarily have visible signs of spring quite this early, but during one of our recent thaws, there were turkeys already separated into flocks of several hens and one very watchful tom. I hope that this is a good omen. I’ll believe the turkeys before the fuzzy rodent of February 2nd. I’m assuming that the owls on the hill are already nesting, as they do in February, but I’m ready for less snow; instead I’d like a vase of snow drops (also known as Candlemas Bells because in some locations, they may bloom that early) with my hot chocolate.
February is full of family and friend birthdays. Birthdays are celebrated --- or not --- in various ways. Some families barely celebrate ---- others make a big splash. I’m sort of on the at least some splash side; I think life is to be celebrated as much as possible. The privilege of living is a gift, as are each of us, because we’re a bit unlike anyone else, so celebration is an expression of gratitude. To all those born in February --- Happy, Happy Birthday!!
We are only a week from another celebration that, in this country, is promoted by the entire retail world. Valentine’s Day generally suggests an event of cards, roses, lacy lingerie, chocolates or a romantic evening out. It didn’t begin that way at all. Saint Valentine was a Christian martyr whose story dates from the fifth century when he was imprisoned for his beliefs. It is said that before his execution, he wrote notes, from prison, to those he loved and signed the notes, “Your Valentine”. Romans also celebrated “Lupercalia”**at this time, so assigning a seasonal Christian celebration for this saint kept the party but changed the reason. Regardless of its roots, it has become a time when we’ll be out trying to find just the right card whether it be for romance or a reminder to those we care about that they are special. Of course, even while honoring St. Valentine---- cards, chocolates, roses and lace are never a bad thought!! ☺
Actually making valentines is fun. I still like to occasionally get involved with paper, glue, glitter and lace doilies. I have a good time cutting out chains of hearts, create a glittering, frilly, eye-catching card or make up catchy verses. Of course, one could, instead, do cookie hearts, quilted hearts, shell hearts or yummy meringue hearts. However you choose to mark the day, any occasion for celebrating people we love is a blessing in a world where Eros*** is often a social activity, where Phileos**** is being stomped under by hate groups, and where Agape***** is something hardly anyone understands. All this is to say that there’s not enough real love of any kind anywhere, so an activity that spreads it must be a very good thing.
After Valentine’s Day, President’s Day comes along to honor Washington and Lincoln; creating a long weekend. And six weeks of Lent begin on Valentine’s Day this year. In our community, most of the churches join together for Lenten services and fellowship. Being with those of other denominations reminds us of how much we are alike rather than dwelling on our theological or ritual differences. Perhaps I will even have the time/energy to mark Mardi Gras (sometimes called “Fat Tuesday”) with Grandpa Dusett’s doughnut recipe. I manage to make them about every decade, so perhaps 2018 will be a fortuitous year.
While any time is a good time for reading, cold, snowy days make winter the time for books. I’ve recently found Tony Hillerman’s stories to be quite fascinating. They are mysteries involving the Navaho and Hopi tribes and the cultural beliefs and practices mentioned as part of the stories are most interesting. It also makes clear just what stupid assumptions we all make about people of other cultures and they about us; I’d recommend “Sacred Clowns”. I’ve also re-read several very old books ---- my favorite being Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge. When we cleaned out my mother’s house, I brought home many of the books. They may have dull, old bindings, but there are some really good stories among them. This one is set in rural, coastal England toward the end of the wars with Napoleon. Whether it is still in print, I don’t know, but it should be. It is a story with twists and turns, and more than a few touches of mystique. It has a happy ending (which I always prefer) and after reading it, I always feel a bubbling happiness inside and a kind of awareness of the small things in the world around me. The third book I’d recommend is Beginner’s Grace by Kate Braestrup --- a book about bringing prayer to life. Kate is the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. Her approach to prayer is often unusual but certainly compelling. I hope those of you who read extensively are finding some great stories – fiction or non-fiction --- to help you through the winter.
Music is part of my year-round entertainment. In just a few days, a small group with whom I’ve been singing for the past three decades will be in concert (assuming the weather allows). We’ve often done fund-raisers for a cause or two, but this event isn’t for any reason other than to offer some fun and thoughtful music for a winter afternoon. We are a mixed sextet and our music ranges from not-too-recent pop music to Gospel to contemporary Christian music. We do a rendition of “Swingin’ With The Saints”, “Gratifaction” from the musicale, Tom Sawyer, “On Eagle’s Wings”, “The Old Soft Shoe” (where people have been known to dance in the aisles) and “Harmony” – something we surely need to increase in this world. We have others, in a variety of genres. If a song is one people know, we invite them to sing along. So if you are at loose ends on Sunday, February 11th, come to Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Spencer (the red brick one on Main Street), at 4 in the afternoon and prepare to relax and enjoy. Unless the roads are bad; then we’ll re-schedule.
Usually, by February, a need for spring rises in humans rather like maple sap, which around here will soon be bubbling over outdoor fires. February, in spite of its fewer days, can seem a very long month, so turn on the lights, accumulate good books, plan occasions with friends, make that cup of cocoa and watch for signs of renewal, especially those lovely little snow drops/Candlemas Bells.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*-Candlemas **is a Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus as the Light of the World and the presentation of Jesus as a baby, to the temple, according to Jewish custom. For centuries, people have brought their candles for the year, to the priests, for blessing. This is a tradition from at least the fourth century.
Lupercalia is a Roman --- perhaps even pre-Roman ---- festival in mid-February. Its purpose was to discourage evil spirits, purify the city and guarantee prosperity and fertility. My guess is that it was probably also to give some direction to rampant and wide-spread Spring Fever!
***-Eros --- physical love
****- Phileos--- brotherly love
*****Agape ----- all-encompassing love of others; altruistic love