Foreword: recipes for Imbolc can be found here!

February 1st is Imbolc (aka Candlemas or St. Brigid‘s Day). It’s a very old holiday, supposedly with pagan roots, but because its date is set exactly six weeks between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, it’s considered a special date in many cultures. In Japan, they have a holiday called Setsubun (which is actually celebrated on February 3rd and isn’t so much a national holiday as it is a cultural one). And, of course, there’s Groundhog Day, which I’ve always thought of as rather an undignified way to celebrate the holiday.

But, it is fairly true to the spirit. Imbolc is a celebration of the first signs of spring: the melting of January snows, the first blooms, the heaviness of animals expecting birth. It is a time of awakening, of new life, of new potential. It can be a very comforting holiday, but it’s one that perhaps I never really appreciated.

In many ways, Imbolc can be seen as the true start of a new year, if you consider it from a “cycle of life” perspective. If the Winter Solstice is the “death” of the year, the darkest days, then Imbolc would naturally be the rebirth, the return of life and light. It’s a very hopeful holiday, looking forward to the future and thinking about what we want from the year. I’ve often used Imbolc as a time for meditating on my goals for the year, for rededicating myself to the resolutions I set a month earlier. If New Year’s is about wishing for the future, Imbolc is about solidifying those wishes and working towards helping them come true.

I haven’t got any really big plans for Imbolc this year; I rarely do. Meditation, for the most part. Perhaps some planning for the future. A special dinner. Nothing extravagant. I consider this a chance to meditate on what I want from this year, which path I want to take. There’s much I want to do this year, and I want to be sure I’m ready for the challenges that await me.

As usual, I will be thinking about my health. This time last year, I was thinking about getting seriouser about losing the weight I’d gained while I was in Japan. Not long after, I found that my desires for 2011 would have to change a bit to accomodate the arrival of a baby. This year, I almost feel like I’m having to do the opposite: instead of a year adjusting to motherhood and enjoying Lauren’s first year of life, I’m thinking again about my health. Only this time, I have a set goal in mind, leading to another: a second pregnancy.

Imbolc seems to me a good time to be thinking about getting pregnant, if not actually managing to do it. There’s a lot of fertility imagery surrounding this holiday, as there should be: it’s the birth of a new year, after all. The entire focus is on the awakening of the new. Of course, this can be more figurative than literal. In fact, this is the first year I’ve considered it in a literal sense. This is the first year of my life that I’ve set down pregnancy as a goal for myself.

What an odd realization, that. I’ve always stuck with the idea of metaphorical birthing. Motherhood was always such a untenable thing to me, something I thought I might have in the future but was never really sure I wanted it. And now I do.

Happy Imbolc, everyone. May all your winter dreaming come to fruition.