Candlemas: A Midwinter Homesteader's Holiday

| 2/17/2014 8:40:00 AM

Tags: Candlemas, winter, holidays, candlemaking, food preservation, Maryland, Ilene White Freedman,

In early February (February 2, to be exact), there is an ancient holiday called Candlemas. It is celebrated between the winter solstice (December 21) and the spring equinox (March 20). On Candlemas, people would gather wax and all the half-used candles around the house and make more candles from old wax or dip fresh beeswax candles to get them through the second half of winter. February means you’re half way to spring (guess this depends where you live!). It’s a half-way-through-winter and let’s make sure we’ll stay cozy and well-fed kind of celebration.

CandlemakingCandlemas came across my desk in our Waldorf homeschool studies. Waldorf School originated in Germany, along with the celebration of Candlemas. German settlers brought Candlemas to the US in the 1700s, which was then the origin of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day doesn’t do anything for me, observing a groundhog for hints about how long it will be before the winter cold days melt into spring. I don’t give the weather forecasters any more attention than I give the groundhogs. But Candlemas Day speaks to me. Although I am sure there is much more to it in its Christian origin, it is a homesteader’s holiday.

Taking Stock Midwinter

Candlemas is the time to check the pantries and the firewood, along with the candles, to make sure there is enough to get through the rest of winter. It is time to do inventory to make sure there will be enough to eat: check the barn stocks of hay and grain for the animals and wheat for making bread, the pantry for jam and tomatoes and applesauce, the cellar for cider and potatoes and beets.

Back then, it was of life or death importance to be sure the stocks will last through the winter. Will we have enough to get through the winter? For a reminder, read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. Today, I have easier access to food to get me through the winter. I could easily get into the habit of buying food from the store, forgetting about the tucked away stores of harvested produce hiding in the freezer.

So I take Candlemas as a flipside inspiration: Will I use up most of my preserved harvest before the next harvest comes around? I am not so concerned about having unused canned goods, as they last well for a long time. But I will want room in the freezer for freshly harvested strawberries, string beans, squash and tomatoes come the next garden season.

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