The Wordsmith's Forge
(My church newsletter column for February)
For such a short month, February has a large number of holidays and special observances. And, boy, do we need them. There’s Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) – one of my personal favorites. Feb. 2 is also the commemoration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (40 days after Christmas); in former days, it was also the day on which all the candles to be used in church would be blessed, and so got the name Candlemas.
Then there’s Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14). This has become a much bigger deal than it used to be. I remember buying Valentines and distributing them to my classmates when I was a child, and that was about it. Nowadays, young adults (especially) treat Valentines Day as a sort of pre-prom, with a lot of heavy expectations upon those seeking or planning dates.
Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays (Feb. 22 and 12, respectively) have now been combined into one more of those weird government-mandated Monday holidays: Presidents Day, observed this year on Feb. 18. For the history-minded, February is also Black History Month.
February is a big time for Scouts. The Boy Scouts of America observe Scout Anniversary Week and Boy Scout Sunday the week of Feb. 6. Cub Packs hold their Blue and Gold Banquets, and those finishing fifth grade “cross over” into Boy Scouting. Meanwhile, the Girl Scouts of the USA observe February 22, the birthday of both Robert, Lord Baden-Powell, and Lady Olave Baden-Powell, as Thinking Day.
Mardi Gras is in February, usually. That’s “Fat Tuesday” in French, because it was the last day to party hearty before Ash Wednesday, which began the Lenten fasting. In English tradition, the day is usually called Shrove Tuesday, because those preparing for Lent would confess their sins and receive absolution (be “shrived”) at the beginning of Lent. This year, Mardi Gras is Feb. 5.
This year is also a Leap Year, so we get even more February than usual, which can be a problem. For those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder – or its milder cousin, “cabin fever” – February is the longest month in the year. Two months of winter’s short days begin to take their toll, and cold weather keeps many in who would like to be out and doing. Hope wanes, even as spring is on the way.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6. Some might see that as a cold and gloomy season that matches the mood of a cold and gloomy month. But Lent is a season of hope, not of gloom. We are preparing for Easter. In the darkest night, we confess that morning always comes. We encourage each other to trust in God and believe in miracles. We prepare ourselves with fasting and prayer to welcome Christ’s resurrection and the renewal of all joy. Even in the depth of winter, there is new life stirring beneath the snow.
Thanks be to God.