Tag Archives: Waverly Fitzgerald

Bringing in the May

Image from our Fireweed 2021 wall calendar featuring artwork by Anahata Joy. Click for more info.

Many May Day customs involve flowers and green branches. Flowers are woven into wreaths to exchange as gifts between lovers or to hang on doors as decoration. Or flowers are placed in baskets and left on doorsteps for the recipients to find when they arise in the morning.

In Ireland, Beltane is the only safe day for wearing Irish lilacs. In France, the flower of May Day is the lily of the valley. Any wish made while wearing it comes true. The marsh-marigold or kingcup is called the herb of Beltane and is strewn against evil in the Isle of Man. Rosemary is another Beltane herb.

In England, there was a tradition of carrying about May garlands. At Horncastle in Lincolnshire, young boys carried May gads: peeled willow wands were wreathed with cowslips. In other parts of England, the garlands are small wooden crosses covered with flowers and greenery. But the hoop-garland is the most common: made from a framework of intersecting hoops so that the final effect is of a flower-covered globe. Sometimes a May Doll (sometimes said to represent Flora) is placed within or upon it. In Italy, the Bride of May carries the maggio, a green branch garlanded with ribbons, fresh fruits and lemons.

Sometimes flowers were given as messages: plum for the glum, elder for the surly, thorns for the prickly, and pear for the popular. In Lancashire, the flowers rhymed with their qualities. Any kind of thorn meant scorn (except for whitethorn or May), while holly was folly, briar for liars, rowan for affection and a plum in bloom rhymed with “married soon.” According to Porter, in Cambridgeshire, boys gave the popular girls sloe blossoms, while “the girl of loose manners had a blackthorn planted by hers’ the slattern had an elder tree planted by hers; and the scold had a bunch of nettles tied to the latch of her cottage door.” According to Hole, lime (which rhymes with prime) was a compliment and so was pear which rhymed with fair. The rowan (or quicken) since it rhymes with chicken was a sign of affection. But briar, holly and plum stood for liar, folly and glum while the alder (pronounced “owler” in some districts) rhymed with “scowler.” Other plants you did not want to receive included nettles, thistles, sloes, crab-tree branches and elders. Obviously there are some contradictions in this list, and some unkindness as well.

I find it interesting that the three plants most often associated with May Day: Sweet Woodruff, Lily of the Valley, and Hawthorn, all are connected in folklore with the heart. Summer is the time when Chinese medicine places the emphasis on strengthening the heart and the circulatory system. It also seems appropriate for the time of the year when we are focused on relationships and coupling.

References:
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Granada Publishing 1976
Hutton, Ronald, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press 1997
Porter, Enid, Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore, 1969, quoted in Hutton


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald was a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shared her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. Waverly passed away in December 2019 and is remembered for being kind, talented, and generous—especially in the aid she provided to many writers, both aspiring and well-established, with her wellspring of knowledge.

 

 


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Imbolc and Candlemas: Spring Growth

Brighid’s Mantle by Jen Delyth featured in the Celtic Mandala 2021 wall calendar.

Last week we looked at the Hindu festival of early spring. This week we welcome the early spring with a few British Isles holidays in honor of new growth: Imbolc and Candlemas. Celebrated on February 1 and 2, they fall halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and can be considered the beginning of spring.

Imbolc is the Celtic name for the holiday celebrated on February 1. The name is alternately derived from words that refer to washing and pregnant bellies and ewe’s milk, because this is the time when lambs are born out in the fields and the earth is prepared for sowing, a time to ask for protection for young animals and tender crops.

February 1 is also the feast day of St. Brigid, who began her life as a pagan goddess and ended up a Christian saint. The goddess, Brigid or Bride, was a fire and fertility goddess with a temple at Kildare where an eternal flame burned, tended by vestal virgins. The saint, Brigid, was born in the fifth century and established the first monastery in Ireland at (where else?) Kildare. Many of the saint’s legends resonate with the qualities and aspects of the goddess. St. Brigid is often associated with light and fire, she multiplies butter and milk, she brings people sheep and cattle, and she can control the weather. To celebrate St. Brigid’s day, people leave a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the saint and an ear of corn for her white cow. Wheat weavings called “Brigid’s crosses” serve as charms to protect homes from fire and lightning.

February 2 is known as Candlemas in the Christian church, thanks to a passage from Luke 2:21 in which the baby Jesus is heralded as “a light for revelation” when Mary goes to the temple for the rite of purification required for women 40 days after giving birth to a baby boy. The spark of the candle burning in the darkness becomes the symbol of new life. Candles are brought to church to be blessed on this day and taken home to serve as protection from disasters. In Hungary, according to Dorothy Spicer in The Book of Festivals, February 2 is called “Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman.” In Poland, it is called “Mother of God Who Saves Us from Thunder.”

In North America we celebrate February 2 by observing a groundhog who predicts the weather for the upcoming 40 days by rousing from hibernation to check out the sunshine. If he sees his shadow (meaning it’s a sunny day), he goes back inside and winter continues. If he stays out, then spring will come early.

If you are lucky at Candlemas you can see the stirrings of spring. Here in Seattle, the witch hazel and the boxwood are blooming, perfuming the air with sweet scents. Snowdrops (the flower of St. Brigid) are opening their snowy white bells. In colder climates, you might look for signs of a thaw or just treasure the extra few minutes of light each day.

Originally published January 2015. 


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald was a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shared her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. Waverly passed away in December 2019 and is remembered for being kind, talented, and generous—especially in the aid she provided to many writers, both aspiring and well-established, with her wellspring of knowledge.

 

 


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Twelve Days of Christmas

Winter Angel

Winter Angel holiday card featuring artwork by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more info.

I’m always searching out forgotten holiday traditions, and one of my favorites that I am trying to revive is the custom of honoring the Twelve Days of Christmas. Some scholars believe the Twelve Days start on Christmas Day and end on January 5 with Twelfth Night. Others (including me) observe them from December 26 through January 6, Epiphany.

But it has been suggested that originally the Twelve Days spanned the time between the new moon closest to the Solstice (this would be during the time of Hanukkah) and the first full moon of the new year, or perhaps the time between Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13) and New Year’s Day.

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Celebrating Winter Solstice — Renewal In Silence, Gathering With Friends

Image from our Fractal Cosmos 2018 wall calendar featuring artwork by Alice Kelley. Click for more info.

Many years ago I read in the Oxford Companion to the Year that December 21 was when the Romans celebrated Angerona, the goddess who advocates for silence with her finger to her lips. The connection between the shortest day of the year and silence intrigued me and led me to develop my favorite Solstice ritual: I spend the day in silence and without using any electricity. I don’t watch television or listen to the radio or work on my computer. I don’t turn on the lights. I don’t answer my phone. At dusk, I go for a long walk in the park near my home. At night, I light candles, take a bubble bath, and go to bed early. I love the way this practice places me inside a delicious pool of quiet and serenity, allowing me to move more slowly and to listen to my own thoughts and feelings more closely. My other Winter Solstice tradition is to host a Solstice party on the Sunday closest to Solstice. Continue reading

Saturnalia: A Golden Time

The Book of Awakening 2017 wall calendar

Image from The Book of Awakening 2017 wall calendar. Eurasian Bullfinch on frozen branches © Markus Varesvuo. Click image for more info.

This Roman holiday is sometimes viewed as the pagan version of Christmas, even though it was certainly being acknowledged long before the Biblical events that are celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice.

Saturnalia, as it was practiced in Rome for centuries before the birth of Christ, has many elements found in other end-of-year rituals, including Hanukkah and Twelfth Night. This seven-day festival, which begins on December 17, was a time when courts did not meet and war could not be declared, so it was a time outside of time, like the Halcyon Days. Continue reading

Halcyon Days: The Calm of Winter Solstice

Environmental Art 2017 wall calendar

Image from our Environmental Art 2017 wall calendar. Abstract Circles Inspired by the Inverted Mandelbrot Set © Simon Beck. Click image for more info.

Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, the god of winds. She was so happy in her marriage with Ceyx, son of the Morning Star, that they called themselves Zeus and Hera (surely not the couple that comes to mind when searching Greek mythology for an example of a happy marriage).

At any rate, this made Zeus mad and he struck down the ship on which Ceyx was sailing with a thunderbolt. When her husband’s ghost appeared before her, Alcyone threw herself into the sea and drowned. Some pitying god transformed them both into kingfishers. Continue reading

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Rose photo by Emilian Robert Vicol / Flickr.

Rose photo by Emilian Robert Vicol / Flickr.

In 1531, on December 9, so the legend goes, an Indian farmer named Juan Diego was passing by the hill called Tepeyac outside of Mexico City on his way to an early morning Mass when he heard birds singing overhead, whistles, flutes, and beating wings. Then he saw a maiden dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess.

She spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec language, Juan’s language, and had skin as brown as cinnamon. She told Juan that she was Maria, the Mother of God, and that he should tell the bishop of Mexico City to build her a chapel on the site. The bishop, however, was not impressed by this message and demanded some proof. Continue reading

Advent

Peace Angel greeting card by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more.

Peace Angel greeting card by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more.

For Christians, the four weeks before Christmas are a special time called Advent (from the Latin for “to come”), a time spent anticipating the birth of the Son of God. Choosing this date to honor this moment was not accidental. For centuries, people had been eagerly anticipating the Winter Solstice and the arrival of the Sun at the same time of the year. Whether waiting for the birth of a divine child or the rebirth of the Sun, this is a time of anticipation in the darkness of winter.

Different customs help Christians count the days until Christmas: Advent calendars have a new little window to be opened each day; adding a piece of straw every day to the manger in the nativity scene; and the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath.

You can also create your own customs to mark the four Sundays before Christmas or Winter Solstice. I inherited one of my favorite Advent customs from my friend, Helen Farias, who wrote stories based on winter gods and goddesses. She suggested reading one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas while sipping on warming holiday drinks, nibbling on traditional holiday cookies, and lighting the next candle on the Advent wreath. Continue reading