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February 15 Lupercalia
The Lupercalia was one of the most important Roman festivals, a rowdy fertility festival loosely connected to the legend of the wolf that suckled the twin babies, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, in her cave the Lupercal on Palatine Hill. Although eventually fixed on the 15th day of February, it was probably once a full moon festival (when the month started at the new moon).

On this day, a band of priests called Luperci gathered at the Lupercal, sacrificed goats and a puppy and made offerings of a sacred grain mixture, mola salsa. Two youths were smeared on the forehead with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off with swatches of milk-soaked wool. After a feast, they stripped off their clothes, wrapped themselves in the still-warm, still-wet skins of the sacrificed goats and ran around the circumference of the hill, striking everyone they met with goatskin thongs, called februa. Being struck by these whips was considered lucky for women who wanted to become fertile.

The whipping may have served several functions. It may have stirred up the blood. Or it may have been considered an expiation, a way of driving out sins and demons (as the Japanese expelled them at Setsubun by throwing beans (see Feb 5)). A similar custom is found at Carnival time in France and Germany: inflated pork bladders, said to contain the souls of the dead, are attached to sticks and used to beat members of the opposite sex. In some shamanic traditions (Buryat and Mongolia), decorative whips of long braided silk ribbons are used to tap clients on the back or hands to cleanse them during healing ceremonies.

When the Pope first tried to ban the Lupercalia in the 5th century, there was so much outrage that the papal residence was completely surrounded by the angry mob. He backed off and the festival was not officially banned again until the next century.

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994
Orloff, Alexander,
Carnival: Myth and Cult, Perlinger 1981
Tedlock, Barbara, T
he Woman in the Shaman's Body, Bantam 2005

Feb 17: Quirinalia/Festival of the Stupid/Feast of Fools
Rome was divided into thirty divisions, and each section was responsible for choosing its own day in early February for performing the Fornicalia, or first fruit offering to Ceres of roasted wheat. As Rome grew larger, people grew confused about which section they belonged to, and so people were allowed to make their sacrifice on the Quirinalia, which was therefore called the Feast of Fools.

It does seem like a great opportunity to enjoy stupidity. How about being deliberately stupid today? Or honoring the stupid people in your life?

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

Feb 18: Sun enters Pisces
The sun enters Pisces, assigned by the ancients to the Syrian goddess of Derketo, who the Romans called Dea Syria and the Greeks Atargatis, possibly meaning "Great Fish."

Allen, Richard, Star Names: Their Lore & Meaning, Dover 1963

February 20 Homage to the Stars
The lantern festival ceremonies which usually occur around the full moon of the first lunar month in China, can begin as early as the eighth day. One hundred and eight lamps are lit at dusk and placed in prominent places around the dwelling including on the well, the kitchen stove, the washing stone, and near gates and doors in a ceremony called "scattering the lamps." Li-Ch'en observes: "Grouped together they look like fireflies; scattered, like stars."

Li-Ch'en, Tun, translated by Derk Bodde, Annual Customs and Festivals in Peking, Peking: Henri Vetch 1936

February 20 Full Moon in Virgo, Lunar Eclipse

February 20 Lantern Festival
The culmination of the New Year's festivities occurs on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month, during the full moon, with the Feast of the Lanterns. The Chinese hang lanterns of all shapes and sizes from doorways. Popular designs include lanterns shaped like red carp and goldfish and sheep (because the word for sheep is the same as the word for good auspices). Also popular are multifaceted good-luck lanterns, designed to resemble a water caltrop, a root vegetable whose name in Chinese sounds the same as the word for good luck.

Sweet rice balls (yuan xiao), are the traditional food for this holiday. Traditionally they are made by dipping a kernel of flavored sugar repeatedly in rice flour and water to form successive layers. The balls are then boiled in water until the sugar center dissolves into syrup. The simpler version, usually served today, involves stuffing the sweet rice balls with red bean paste, sweet crushed sesame seeds or peanut paste. Making the rice balls is a family ritual and while they are being made, family members only mention good things, to insure luck for the coming year.

Simonds, Nina, Chinese Seasons, Houghton Mifflin 1986

Feb 21: Feralia
On the last day of the Roman festival of Parentalia, families went to the graveyard, bringing offerings to appease the ancestors. "Votive garlands, a sprinkling of grain, a few grains of salt, bread soaked in wine and some loose violets; these are enough; set these on a potsherd and leave it in the middle of the path. Now doth the ghost fatten upon his dole," wrote Ovid.

According to Blackburn, an ugly old woman, surrounded by girls, performed rituals to appease the Silent Goddess, a gossiping nymph whose tongue was plucked out by Jupiter. The rituals included putting incense in mouseholes and casting spells over threads and tying them to pieces of lead. While holding seven beans in her mouth, the old woman roasted a fish-head sealed with pitch, pierced with a pin and sprinkled with wine, and then drank the rest of the wine herself, giving a little to the girls. The point of these rituals was to bind the tongues of others so they couldn't do harm.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

Feb 22: Caristia/Cara Cognatio
From the Roman word, cara, meaning dear, this was a day of family reunions after the solemnity of the Parentalia. Now that the ancestors had been honored, the living were acknowledged with feast and gifts. It was ruled by Concordia, the goddess of peace, depicted with a cornucopia in one hand and an olive branch in the other.

"Sweet it is, no doubt, to recall our thoughts to the living after they have dwelt upon the grave and on the dear ones departed from us; sweet, too, after so many departed, to look upon those of our blood who are left, and to count kin with them," wrote Ovid about this festival.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

Feb 22: The Church of St Peter
To replace the pagan festivals of the Concordia, the Church made this day the feast of St Peter's Chair, celebrating his role as teacher and feeder of that flock of sheep, the faithful. However in 567, at the second Council of Tours, people were still "offering mashed food to the dead."

Many early blooming plants are named after Peter including the cowslip in England which may be called Peterswort, and daffodils in Wales which are called Peter's leeks.

There are also many legends about ice on St Peter's Day. The Germans say that if water is frozen on this day it will not melt for a fortnight. The Norwegians extend this to 60 days. The Norwegians also say that St Peter threw hot rocks at the ice to melt it, or that if there is no ice on this day, he will make it (see also St Matthias Feb 24). It is also believed that the weather on this day will last four weeks, or forty days, or all of spring. However, if there is sun enough to saddle a horse, or moisture on a roof sufficient to slake a hen's thirst, then there will be a good harvest.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

Maypole Dance

Feb 23: Terminalia
On this day, Romans honored boundary god Terminus. Neighbors met at the boundary stones between their properties, with the women bringing torches ignited on their hearths, the sons with baskets of produce from the property and the daughters with special honey cakes. The women kindled twin altar fires made of neatly interlaced sticks. The sons held their baskets over the fire and the girls shook them three times to scatter its contents into the flames, then fed the cakes to the fire. Employees stood by dressed in white, wine in hand. The two landowners slaughtered a lamb and a suckling pig and let the blood spatter on the stone. Then the two families sat down for a feast.

A good day to honor boundaries of all sorts, from property boundaries to personal boundaries. How can you mark and define your space? What tokens will you set up to show others where your boundaries are? And how will you honor these?

Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

Feb 23: St Mildburga
This sixth century Shropshire saint was associated with plowing and sewing from an early date. She protected a newly-sown field from the depredations of worms and geese. While fleeing from her enemies she caused water to spring up out of the ground and a field of barley to grow to maturity in one day. Her feast day falls in the middle of the spring wheat sowing season in Shropshire.

Berger, Pamela, The Goddess Obscured, Beacon Press 1985

Feb 23: St Polycarp
The LaPlante sisters recommend St Polycarp as the saint to invoke when looking for a parking spot, although the connection between his life (he was a student of the Apostle John, a Bishop of Smyrna and martyred at the age of 86) and parking places is obscure. They suggest the following prayer: "Polycarp, find me a spot."

LaPlante, Alice & Clare, Heaven Help Us: the Worrier's Guide to the Patron Saints, Dell 1999

February 23 108 Lanterns
On the third day after the Feast of Lanterns, in most Chinese provinces, people arrange 108 small lamps on a table in the shape of the Chinese character shun, meaning agreeable or smooth. A large lamp in the center represents the god of Longevity. They light the lanterns, burn incense and offer sweet rice balls to the gods.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

Feb 24: St Matthias
Also known as the "thirteenth apostle," because he replaced Judas, St Matthias was supposedly beheaded with an axe, thus becoming the patron of woodcutters and carpenters.

It is said that if there is sharp frost on his day it will last several days. Another weather proverb says:

Matthias breaks the ice, if he finds it;
If he does not break it, he makes it all the harder.

A good day for honoring any carpenters you know, for making a bookshelf or beginning a wood-working project. Also maybe a good day to go ice-skating. Then again maybe not.

Feb 24: Regifugium
On this day, the Roman king "ran for office," pursued by an eager band of would-be usurpers who, if they caught him, could dethrone and kill him. In later times this ritual was purely ceremonial but it was, as Frazer writes, "a relic of a time when the kingship was an annual office, awarded along with the hand of a princess, to the victorious athlete or gladiator who therefore figured along with his bride as a god and goddess in a sacred marriage to ensure the fertility of the earth by homeopathic magic."

Frazer, The Golden Bough,
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco

Feb 25: St Walburga
This sixth century Anglo-Saxon nun, who became the abbess of the double monastery of Heidenheim in Germany, was also known as a grain protectress. She was depicted holding a sheaf of wheat and was considered a matron of good crops, farmers and pregnant women.

Apparently sheaves of grain dressed like a woman were called Walburga. A legend tells how she disguised herself in a sheaf of grain while fleeing from a pursuer. Her other feast day is Walpurgishnacht (Apr 30), the date her relics were translated, a Christian date superimposed over an old Germanic spring revel, honoring a fertility goddess.

Berger, Pamela, The Goddess Obscured, Beacon Press 1985

February 25 Rats' Wedding Day
On the 19th day of the first lunar month, the Chinese retire early so as not to disturb the rats. This is also called the Gathering of the Hundred Gods. Newly married daughters may visit their parents only on this day during the month.

Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

February 26 Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries
From the 20th to the 24th days of the Greek lunar month of Anthesterion, those who were planning to participate in the Eleusinian Mysteries in the fall came to Agrae in Greece for the initial purification rites, which included rubbing with ashes, plunging into the ocean, donning new clothes, processing by torchlight and asking the goddess for guidance.

Feb 28: St Radegund of the Oats
A saintly sixth-century queen (she married Clotaire, King of the Merovingians, but fled from him after he murdered her brother), her worship replaced that of the earlier grain goddess. The legend goes that while she was fleeing from her husband, she passed a farmer sowing oats and asked him to tell anyone that followed that he had not seen a woman pass since he sowed the oats. In the next few hours, the oats grew so tall that Radegund could hide herself among them and when the farmer delivered his message to the King, he called off the search. (A similar story is told about St Mildburga (Feb 23), St Walburga (Feb 25) and the Virgin Mary.)

People brought oats as offerings to her on her feast day which was celebrated earlier in England, on February 11. St Radegund's other feast day is August 13, which further confirms her connection with a grain goddess, as this is the date of a great goddess festival, when Artemis, Hecate and later the Virgin Mary were asked to protect the grain as it stood in the fields awaiting harvest.

Berger, Pamela, The Goddess Obscured, Beacon Press 1985

February 28 Kalevala Day
Finns celebrate the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, and its first compiler, Elias Lonnrot. One of my readers, Diane Saarinen, informed me of a Kalevala Marathon sponsored by the Columbia University Department of Finnish Studies during which the Kalevale was read or performed in 15 languages. This epic which combines mythology and hero tales influenced many writers including Tolkien in his writing of The Lord of the Rings (his Elvish resembles Finnish).

Feb 28: Out with the Shvod
Armenians roust the house guardians out of their lazy beds and into the fields for growing season duties on this day by banging on the walls with sticks and saying, "Out with the Shvod and in with the March."

Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Legend, Maria Leach, editor, Harper and Row 1984

February 28 Mid Lent Carnival
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a festivity held on the middle Thursday of Lent to celebrate the fact that the first half of this season of deprivation and abstinence is at an end. Presumably one can indulge for a day, just like on Mothering Sunday.

Called Mi Careme it is still celebrated in several villages in Nova Scotia where people dress up in costumes and masks.

For more on Mi-Careme see

February 29: Leap Year Day
On this unusual day, which appears in the calendar every four years, medieval women were given permission to take the upper hand in matters of romance and marriage. The first written mention of this custom comes from Scotland in 1288: a law that stipulated that any woman could, during this year, propose to any man she liked. He, of course, had the right of refusal, but if he refused he had to pay her a pound (a substantial sum, I would imagine, in 1288). However, this law seems dubious—perhaps it was just a joke.

A booklet published in London in 1606 spells out the same sort of permission in these delightful words: "as every leap yeare doth return, the ladyes have the sole privilege during the time it continueth of making love, either by wordes or lookes, as to them it seemeth proper." Interesting to note that from 1288 to 1606, the privilege applied to the entire year, but by 1710, as preserved in this quotation from The Arbiter of Polite Comportment, it had narrowed to just one day:

Ladies have a full and absolute license to propose marriage to single gentlemen on February the 29th; and if the gentleman is so rude as to refuse, he is infallibly bound to give the spurned lady a present, which is usually a pair of new gloves on Easter Day.

Leap Years were considered unlucky in Scotland (perhaps because women took the upper hand for the entire year?). Leap Year's Day was sometimes called Job's Birthday since it was said to be the day he was born, the day he cursed during his affliction. Luckily, this cursed day appears only once every four years instead of every year.

Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Rufus, Anneli,
The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

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