“End now the white loafe and Christmas pye,
And let all sports, with Christmas dye.”
– Robert Herrick.
February is a short month, except when it’s a leap year… when that extra day creeps in – on that day, young maids, wanting to wed their man, are allowed to propose! Such was the custom before these modern times, as imparted to me by my family, none of whom, as far as I know, had to stoop so low as to have to ask! Of course these days, the quaint custom has all but died out, but once the 29th was looked on fondly by those young women for whom cupids arrow had pierced their heart but their beloveds had yet to pop the question!
It was the good old Romans who introduced two extra months into their calendar; January (after Janus) and February from the word to purify and cleanse; febura.
Who doesn’t think about the modern day ritual of spring cleaning, as the sun returns into our homes, showing up those dusty cobwebs, spun over the winter months?
In years gone by – all signs of Christmas and it’s revelries must be gone by Candlemass eve – another of Robert Herricks ditties says:
“Down with the Rosemary’s and Bayes,
Down with the Misleto;
Instead of Holly, now upraise
The greener Box for show.
The Holly hitherto did sway;
Let Box now domineere
Until the dancing Easter Day,
Or Easter’s Eve appeare.”
In my home county of Shropshire, it’s recorded that some, as the Holly and Bay were taken out, would replace them with the humble snowdrop.
In his book “Weather Forecasting the Country Way”, Robin Page notes that:
“February is a damp moth, not because of high rainfall, but because of a low evaporation rate. It is often the month of the most intense cold, as the thermometer falls and the crimson sun sets in an open sky. It can be a time of burst pipes, and, in a good year, of skating.
February fill dyke, black or white.
February makes a bridge and March brakes it.
As the days lengthen,
So the cold strengthens.”
On the farm back in the day, I would look for the snowdrops peaking through the snow capped garden ~ this was a sight for sore eyes! No central heating in those days! Just coal fires and the odd well seasoned log to give extra warmth in the evenings. When they were up, those snowdrops, closely followed by crocus and daffodils, meant that spring was not far away; Mother Nature was stirring from her winters sleep and the sap would soon rise, swelling buds and heralded the coming warmth of spring and bringing the Land to life again! Life from the Death of Midwinter, growing stronger with each passing day 🙂
For the women of the family, it meant the larder, now nearly empty would be swept clean and a fresh coat of paint applied if needed. The jars of jam, the bottled fruit in their kilner jars would be sorted, along with other food stuffs, put down the year before; eggs in water glass to preserve them, for cake making would almost be used, but the hens would soon begin to lay more eggs, so the last of them would be used up in pancakes on strove Tuesday – still one of my favourite days of the year!
Outside, the cowhouse would also be spring cleaned, with cobwebs removes, corners swept and a fresh coat of lime wash, inside and out applied. The hay in the Dutchbarn would be low, very low if the winter had been a hard one, and sometimes good for nothing if it had been wetted by the driving winter rains – it would go on the mixed heap, along with every thing else that would rot – including dead animals… chickens, geese, cats, even the budgie – all went on the mixed heap to rot down, and then spread across the fields to fertile them!
Spring cleaning – did I mention spring cleaning? The house, the yard, the farm buildings would all, over the coming weeks, be cleaned – purified ready for the coming year, and the round of life would start again.