As I sit here in my house on Short Street, with my son sleeping, the wind howling, and the aeromancers predicting from zero to 8 more inches of snow, my mind is on… Spring. My mind is also on the Cake Shop- I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed the last few months- when business-as-usual has come to a grinding halt due to winter weather for which our sleepy Southern mountain town is not prepared- (I’ve spent many beautiful days at home cooking slow meals and cleaning out corners) but let’s just say that I could really use a rocking Valentine’s weekend and multiple wedding cake deposits to round things out. And coming up on our one year anniversary at the Cake Shop, and having passed the two year mark of relentless blogging about my endeavors, I’m feeling pensive and in need of some inspiration- inspiration I have found in the form of the happy coincidence this week of myriad celebrations of Spring. So, towards that end, dear reader, I begin my epistle on the Celebrations of Spring- and the hope of warmth and growth that it entails:

February 1 and 2: Imbolc/Feast of St. Brigid/Candlemas/Groundhog Day:
From School of the Seasons:

February 1st is the feast day of St Brigid, who began her life as a pagan goddess and ended up a Christian saint. The great high goddess, Bride or Brigid, was a fire and fertility goddess, perhaps embodied in the stars in the constellation we view as Orion. In her temple at Kildare, her priestesses tended an eternal flame. She presided over all transformations: birth and brewing, metal-smithing and poetry, the passage from winter to spring.

Imbolc, February 1st, marks the cross-quarter between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. In ancient Ireland, it represented the first day of spring, and its rituals were likely subsumed into the celebrations of St. Brigid. (Just to stay on topic: Cakes made with apples are traditional in Ireland for St. Brigid’s Feast Day- it was also considered good luck to churn butter and bake with it on this day) What I love about Imbolc, and what it shares with our modern Groundhog Day, is that it acknowledges the first stirrings of life despite the cold of winter. Even now, in the 25 degree weather, I can see daffodil leaves breaking through the soil in my front yard. And, now that I think about it, right about now is the time that we used to go daffodil picking at my great-great-grandparent’s homeplace in Cartersville, GA, in the cattle pastures where the daffodils that my great-grandmother must have planted naturalized all over the hillsides. This is the beginning of Spring- not the basking-in-the-sunshine-swimming-at-the-beach kind of spring, but the cold, bright, chilly, muddy, giddy kind of spring. Here’s a picture of me and Duncan being big hippies in the Cartersville daffodils circa February 2002:

And then comes Valentine’s Day, February 14. Again, I quote Waverly Fitzgerald‘s thorough and well-researched seasonal calendar School of the Seasons:

There is no connection between this holiday and either of the two St Valentines (a Roman priest martyred in the third century and a martyred bishop) although many legends have been invented to explain it. One story says that Claudius II, during a time of unpopular military campaigns, cancelled all marriages and engagements, hoping thereby to channel the energy of the young men into the martial arts. Supposedly Valentine, a priest in Rome during this time, secretly married couples…. The custom of sending valentines may derive from the custom of drawing lots (names of partners) at the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, or with the worship of Juno Februata…. There was a folk superstition, mentioned by Shakespeare that the first person you meet on Valentine’s Day will be your true love. Ophelia plays with this idea when she says to Hamlet:

Good morrow, ’tis St Valentine’s Day
All in the morn betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine.

To dream of your future mate, pin five bay leaves to your pillow on the eve of St. Valentine’s (one in each corner and one in the middle). Or you can adopt the divination method used by young people in England: write the names of prospective lovers on slips of paper, roll them in clay balls and drop them in a bowl of water. The first to rise to the surface will be your valentine…

The happy accident of this weekend is that Valentine’s Day shares it’s feast with Chinese New Year- generally the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. This February 14 marks the beginning of the year of the Tiger!

Here is a link to a recipe for Chinese New Year Cake, which is apparently a deliberately very sticky offering to a family’s Kitchen God, in hopes that his mouth will be too full and gooey to tell Heaven about all the trouble you’ve been up to that year (a brilliant plan- I think I’m going to try it).

And, then, of course, there is Mardi Gras, which falls this year on Tuesday, February 16. (can I get an Amen? Can I get a Geaux Saints?) Mardi Gras is the season before Lent, Lent being the traditional time of sacrifice and fasting, therefore Mardi Gras being the traditional time of Debauchery. The ritual and historical significance of this holiday throughout time is so rich and so deep, and our regional connection to this holiday so strong via the traditions of Mobile, New Orleans, and environs, that I won’t try to comprehensively treat it here, but will encourage you to research, and more importantly, respectfully experience Mardi Gras in all of its splendor.

However, get ready, because we’re going to do some math. Mardi Gras is a holiday tied to the only lunar (and most important) holiday in the Christian Calendar: Easter. Easter falls each year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox- and Mardi Gras falls the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent, which is forty-six days (or forty days, not counting Sundays) before Easter. Are you with me? Good. Get your calculator. My friend, astrologer DK Brainard, pointed out that the significance of forty days (as in 40 days and nights of rain for Noah, 40 days in the wilderness for Jesus, 40 days of fasting for Lent) was the division of the 360-day religious year by 9. 360 days was the religious year because ancient religions recognized the year as a circle, and a circle consists of, as we all know, 360 degrees. That was just one way of breaking up the year into months, much like the Roman solar calendar gives us 12, and the Jewish Lunar calendar gives us 13. Which blows my mind and makes me happy. And now that we’ve had our spiritual math lesson, and speaking of circles, let us now return to the subject of cake.

Sunday! February 14! The feasts of St. Valentines, Bacchus, Zulu, Eris, Venus! Here are the things that are happening in Asheville to mark the season:

1) Cake Shop Birthday Party.

Special Cakes!
-Sweethearts and Broken Hearts.

These little cakes can show that special someone just exactly how you feel. Chocolate cake, covered in ganache, and lined with a raspberry cream cheese icing or a lavender white chocolate icing. $3 each.
-King Cakes still available! Click on the link in the upper right hand margin of this blog for more info.
-Heart Shaped Flourless Chocolate Gateau, with Flowers and a Message: $25, by special order only. (order by Friday at 6pm for Sunday pick-up)
-And, we will have a variety of luscious and romantic cupcakes for your gift-giving (and eating) pleasure.

2) Next door to the cake shop, at Farm Girl Flower Shop:

On Sunday Farm Girl/Bury Me Naturally will be hosting a Valentine’s Day celebration featuring handmade valentines, floral arrangements, and herbal elixirs. Here’s a sampling of what they have to offer:

3) Also, speaking of love, Marco’s Pizzeria is hosting a benefit on Valentine’s Day for the Progressive Education Program of Buncombe County in Memory of Meryl Snyder- “Serving students with disabilities to promote independence and challenge individuals to reach their full potential.” On Valentine’s Day, 20% of all proceeds at both Marco’s locations will go to the PEP program in memory of Meryl Snyder, a TC Roberson student who loved Marco’s Pizza.

4) Mystic Mountain Krewe Presents: Wild At Heart: Asheville’s Mardi Gras Parade. Mardi Gras 2010 will roule from the corner of Walnut and Market at exactly 2:37 pm on Sunday, February 14. There are also rumors of Masqued Balls, Speakeasies, Mardi Gras Indians, and general misbehavior. Enjoy the revelry!

Friends, may you all find luck and love this weekend. Remember to spread the love and luck locally- the beautiful community that Asheville is needs your support and love in this blizzard-y time.