Springtime is a time we might expect increased wellbeing, for the lighter nights can make us feel freer physically, this has implications for our emotional health too.
Looking for the first snowdrops is my want each January, early February, it stirs me from Winters inertia.
This photograph is of my first sighting this year, and was taken in St. Peter’s churchyard, Bramley. Other people observe the rite of Spring in more elaborate ways.
The festival of Imbolc on 2nd February is one such ritual. Imbolc may have passed by most of us unnoticed, perhaps only with a vague acknowledgement that it’s a Pagan festival. Imbolc is when Pagans mark their calendar at the return of Spring, and is thought traditionally to have been determined by the commencement of the lambing season which varies by as much as several weeks each year. Nature signalled the return of Spring, not humans, but here we are in the modern day trying to control and measure time. Hearthfires, divination, omens and such like are a part of this celebration.
Now that Imbolc has gone and so too our solar New Year it might seem odd to be still thinking about New Year rituals, but I am today because, 19th February marked the start of Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s otherwise known in China. For those who observe the lunar calendar it’s the New or dark moon which signals the start of similar festivals. This year is the Year of the Sheep (green or wooden!) or Goats. Leeds Libraries website, Leeds Reads supplied me with some clarification about why the Festival can be named either sheep or goat.
“The Chinese word yáng refers both to goats and sheep and different countries have different interpretations. In Vietnam and Cambodia it’s goat, in Japan – sheep, in Korea and Mongolia, sheep or ram”.
Confusion still abounds though http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-31511109
Needless to say the symbolism of sheep or goats here differs to that of the Christian tradition, in biblical parable they are used to illustrate the supposed difference in character of meek or stubborn humans,..….no guesses which were most favoured! The sheep and goats in Chinese lore refer to the Five Elements Theory, or Wu Xing and the sheep is not regarded favorably astrologically speaking.
Today I’ll be thinking especially of the young Chinese exchange student who spent our solar New Year with me, she’s now returned to Inner Mongolia to celebrate the moon New Year, or Spring Festival with her family. Meeting her as a study buddy was an enriching cultural exchange which rose above the common barriers of age and cultural difference. We enjoyed together at Leeds City Varieties. that well established UK New Year tradition, pantomime, she for the first time and me after 20 years. Special effects nowadays are so realistic, we were both spellbound. What bits of the Dick Whittington story I could remember, I’d told her and she soon got the gist of the boos and hisses. It was lovely to see all age groups there interacting with the performers corny innuendo, slandering of politicians and dancing in the aisle at the end…..oh yes I did! ….. highly recommended as therapy.
These New Year memories are all that remain of my meagre end of year ‘rituals’, along with this scraggy poinsettia, and some reflections as to why we measure time. We may set out at New Year, with the relentlessly cheery greeting, ‘Happy New Year!’ The greeting is a convention, and whereas conventions do occasionally serve a purpose, some people recognise that the ticking of the clock at midnight on December 31st, which appears to mark one year from another, bears little connection to our happiness. Losa Marl one of Inkwell’s Studio Artists, suggests that wishing people a …..Better ….New Year might be more appropriate. In a conversation about the week between Xmas and New Year, a week which always feels like ‘a month of Sundays’ someone else expressed confusion as to what day it was, Losa again commented,
“days are just social constructions utilized first by agrarian, then capitalist societies to regulate and define the time allocated for slavish work or religious activity”
For those of us who think it’s the status quo that’s crazy, Losa’s wise and succinct assessment of measuring time was grounding. We might consider ourselves lucky if we are not too slavishly beholden to social conventions about measuring time, or much else.
It is often said that older people ‘get set in their ways’, and I’d agree that repeating some routines can be comforting. One of mine is to at the stroke of midnight on the 31st December, and rather smugly, while others cavort and cackle outside with fireworks, get in the bath, (filled with water, very rarely cavorting, but always without firecrackers) amusing myself with the thought, “I’ve not had a bath since last year”.
Along with most people I know though I appear to have a very short memory, annually forgetting just how difficult January and February are. We wonder why we don’t function well; or why our resilience is lowered, often berating ourselves for some perceived lack of coping skills. Winters shortage of daylight; penetrating cold weather; the coughs, colds and stomach bugs which accompany it, is simply tough. The expectation we have of self and others, and they of us, that we function 9-5, Monday – Friday, Winter and Summer alike, is crazy! For many years I conformed to punishingly relentless school or work schedules, almost unthinkingly, and without complaint, but not now! I bleat …..often!
The New Year before last is a blur but memories of last Spring and Summer remain clear, for it was one of my best. The returning Spring light brought such a profound relief from oppressive darkness, in a way I don’t recall happening previously. A midsummer trip down memory lane also lightened my step, bringing release from an otherwise intense period, and leading me to pastures new. A view of my offspring’s fearless gaze reminded me of my own pluckiness in former days, this spurred me on, and remains a positive force for my wellbeing, Friendships were established or renewed, but some were lost in death, or relocation far and wide, though absent part of them remains with me.
I was born under the sign of the ram (not an inn), and I don’t know if in this Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram that is a good or bad omen, but I wish you a BETTER moon New Year and Spring Festival. Perhaps we’ll share a few homespun rituals this coming solar New Year 2015?