Imbolc, the Celtic holiday celebrating the first stirrings of spring, is almost upon us. One reason I love Imbolc is that it isn’t widely celebrated, so we can more easily make our own celebrations that are meaningful to us. Also, anything that promises spring is welcome in the middle of a New England winter. I just learned this year that February 1 actually does mark the beginning of the solar spring, the time when the sun shines long enough during the day that the Earth begins to warm and the snow to melt. On February 1, there is no sign of spring in New England, so I always believed that the Celts just had a different climate with an earlier spring than we did. It’s nice to know that the Celts actually were celebrating an astronomically-significant event; they were so smart!
This year I have decided to make snow ice cream for my Imbolc observance. If you have never made snow ice cream, here is how you do it. When the snow starts falling, put a bowl out to gather the fresh snow. You can, theoretically, scoop it off the snowbank, but I don’t trust it to be really clean unless it has just fallen. Mix about 6 cups of snow with 1 cup milk, ½ cup sugar or equivalent sweetener, and a little flavoring of your choice. The snow will quickly become much less than 6 cups. You can freeze it and then it will have the taste and texture of Italian ice.
To me, eating snow is the perfect way to celebrate the first twinklings of spring because snow is like winter’s harvest. It is so beautiful and so abundant, like grains of wheat or rice. Each flake is unique and spectacular, even though very, very few will ever be seen and appreciated. How much Gaia must love to create for us to make snow. What a spring-like gesture of plenty snow is.
Making snow ice cream is a connection to our younger, “spring” selves, at least for those of us who made it as children. I love the idea of doing something at Imbolc that I did as a child, when the world really was new and every day was an adventure. What a deep way to connect to the youthful spirit of spring, that is all potential and growth and enthusiastic optimism!
Yet, for all its springlike reflections, snow ice cream is still made of snow with all its somber and cold qualities. Winter’s peace and sanctuary, to me, comes with the first silent snowfall. When we ingest snow, we are bringing this element into ourselves, acknowledging the essential ending phase of life’s wheel. Yet, we are remaking it into something joyful and pleasurable, nourishing that part of us that is renewing ourselves as we wait for the sun’s warmth and the growth that it will bring.
On Imbolc, may you enjoy a nice, chilly, tasty bowl of snow ice cream and observe all that is happy and hopeful about this moment of the year!