Guest columnist John Walter: Preparing for Earth holiday: Imbolc

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By JOHN WALTER

Published: 01-26-2024 8:54 AM

What is Imbolc? It is the day halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

If the winter solstice represents the death of the year, then Imbolc represents the birth of the new year.

In our country we give fancy to groundhogs and their shadows as if this will prognosticate the spring to come. But this tradition began in Celtic lands across the sea, where Imbolc represented the beginning of the end of hibernation and it was celebrated with the bear coming out of hibernation.

However, bears became extinct in old England so they switched to the hedgehog, and when the tradition came to this land where there are no hedgehogs, we adapted to groundhogs. But we certainly have bears. So, if there is an animal who represents the time of Imbolc it is certainly the bear.

And in the human sphere, Imbolc is represented by the bringing forth of new life in the baby child. Where the mature woman, also referred to as the crone, passes her token to the child of the new year. What could this token be? A candle, a pine cone, a sprig of wintergreen, a cup of sugar maple sap? What will you choose to represent this time of light passing through the year?

How does one celebrate the Imbolc? Most people do silently or not at all. Or they make jokes about spring being either six weeks away or a month and a half. Or perhaps the time is confused with capitalistic or Catholic traditions of buying candy or celebrating a false saint.

But if you want, you can have a bonfire and dress as bears and eat a new spring cake. You can honor the elderly women of our society with sprigs of wintergreen and maple sugar. You can bring forth this new year with hope and courage for a better tomorrow, a healthier tomorrow and an honest tomorrow.

Imbolc is the turning of winter into spring. This is a time of celebration. So any day from the end of January through the first weekend in February, keep this Earth holiday in your hearts and minds. Because the Earth needs us, the forests need us, the rivers need us, to halt our destruction and instead to leave it alone to regrow into the wild and wonderful world it should be.

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As Henry David Thoreau put it so succinctly, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

Today we are faced with the destruction of prime farmland and pristine forestland for the capitalistic desire of profits through the means of building solar fields and battery storage facilities. Would it not be better for all of us to simply turn off our electricity needs?

Just shut if off. Stop watching streaming services that require buildings full of servers to provide. Stop playing PC games that need the highest level of computer power. Just sit in the growing light of day in silence for once and say to yourself, “This year I will live naturally, not electronically.”

John Walter lives in Shutesbury.