Midwinter Coverings and Uncoverings

Today is Imbolc, a traditional Celtic holiday representing midwinter in the northern hemisphere – halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Some of the traditions related to Imbolc bleed into Candlemas (and its Hispanic counterpart, el Día de la Candelaria) as well as Groundhog Day. What’s interesting to me, to write about here, are aspects of this holiday cluster that have to do with covering and uncovering.

Midwinter is usually too cold to be comfortably naked outdoors, but the days are getting longer and temperatures will begin to rise. At midwinter, the trees are “bare” while the ground may very well be “covered” with snow. Many a furry or feathered beast of northern climes wears a white “coat” for camouflage at this time of year, which will change to brown as the longer days progress.

In some traditions, it is Imbolc – not the spring equinox – that was the beginning of spring. It was a day devoted to Brigid, the fertility goddess, and as part of the day’s activities people made little dolls out of reeds, and left cloth or clothing outside on the night of the 1st for Brigid to bless when she visited their homes. Did it mean they spent the evening clothesfree? I haven’t found any information on that detail one way or the other, although it seems that the blessing was meant for new clothing only, which meant the believers would probably have been wearing older clothes that cold evening. This area of research is more up the alley of fellow naturist fiction writer and site-maintainer Robert…!

An interpretation of the goddess Brigid. Source.

As the goddess became “Saint” Brigid, and Catholicism spread around the world, the Catholic holy days were grafted onto already existing “pagan” celebrations. In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations, el Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) is celebrated February 2. It’s the day that the holy child figure, or doll, that had been used during Nativity is dressed to be taken and presented at the church in an elaborate procession. Anyone who had found a little porcelain or plastic baby in their slice of Rosca de Reyes (Kings Cake) on January 6, is charged with supplying the traditional food on February 2: tamales and atole (a thick corn drink, flavored and served hot). Tamales, an ancient Mesoamerican food, are precisely a kind of bundle that needs to be “uncovered” or unwrapped in order to be eaten. They almost look like little dolls, or babes in swaddling clothes. In various Mesoamerican belief systems, it was held that the gods had created humans from masa (corn dough), with the varying colors of maize giving rise to the range of humanity’s skin tones.

Tamales. Source.

So there is a a lot going on here, in several traditions related to this date, with dolls that need to be made or dressed, and clothing to be laid out, and food to be unwrapped. It seems appropriate for a halfway day: some covering, some uncovering – some uncertainty. Will the groundhog see his shadow? Will the remainder of winter be long or short? And above all: How soon before we can ditch our coverings and be comfortably naked outside???

3 thoughts on “Midwinter Coverings and Uncoverings”

  1. Hmm … I think the really important question is, “How long before I can be naked outside, anywhere, including the front yard, raking leaves and cutting the lawn?”

  2. Just a small correction, Will. Paul is the site maintenance person, the site owner. The oldest versions of the Celtic gods invariably picture them nude. As gods and goddesses, they were immortal beings unaffected by the forces of nature. However, the Celts themselves, were practical people -well practical for most part- only wearing clothing when necessary. The Celtic world was spread out through most of central Europe which would have meant that in a few areas, the weather would potentially be friendly in terms of shedding clothing for a festive celebration such as Imbolc. That said, thanks for this wonderful article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.