Thursday, February 01, 2007

February 2: Candlemas

The snowdrop, in purest white arraie,
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.

(ca. 1500)

In the Christian calendar, Candlemas is the festival of the Purification of Mary and commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It was also traditionally the day on which the church candles for the year were blessed. The day also coincides with the beginning of the lambing season, marked by a pagan festival known as Imbolc, and Groundhog's Day. The original European superstition was that fair weather on Candlemas meant another forty days of winter. This morning, after a spectacular sunrise the color of the salmon fillet I cooked last night, the sky is dark gray and overcast. Update at noon: the day has, in fact, turned very fair and bright.

Candlemas is also the season of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), which are sometimes known as Candlemas bells. The snowdrops pictured here have been blooming near the Inchford Brook ford, southwest of Kenilworth, for about two weeks now. Snowdrops appear to be garden escapees in England; they were often planted in monastery gardens, and evidently are still found on the sites of ruined monasteries. Their early appearance this year may have something to do with global warming—this January was the second warmest January on record in Britain. Daffodils are also blooming, and in some gardens last year's roses have never stopped blooming. Snowdrops, incidentally, are believed by some medical historians to be the herb moly mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as the antidote to Circe's magic. The bulb of the snowdrop contains a compound known as galanthamine, which is now marketed as a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

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