Mud and Cabbages

Opinions - February 5th, 2010
Photo by Columbine

by Ian de Stains OBE

It was T.S. Eliot who said that, “April is the cruelest month,” but in Japan at any rate, I think it takes a back seat to February. February comes and goes without celebration or regret. February is the runt of the year, a month with too few days in it and not enough light; a cold month and an unforgiving one with little else to distinguish it.

Perhaps it is because by February we have finally left behind the symbols and ceremonies of the holiday season: both the dingle-dong dancing Christmas trees with their gaudy flashing lights and the altogether opposite, sublime, serene pine and bamboo decorations of the Japanese o-shogatsu. By February, the New Year’s arrow is set above the lintel, the shinenkai (New Year’s parties) that peppered the calendar through January are by and large done with, and there isn’t yet the sense that spring, with its promise of re-awakened life, is about to come knocking. Mother Nature withholds the buds from leafless trees that stand dark along the riverbank; the river itself is sluggish. Winter birds huddle and turtles hibernate. The grass along the banks is anything but green.

My neighbors, bundled up in gloves and heavy coats and scarves that are impossibly long, staunchly walk their dogs, whose panting breath fogs the air. They—the dogs—are less inclined than usual to stop and be petted; keen, as soon as their business is done, to return to the warm confines of home.

For yes, February is a month for sticking close to the house; for curling up on the sofa with a pile of books, afternoon tea and Marmite toast, a tartan blanket for comfort and an affectionate cat for company. It is a time for quiet contemplation and catching up on the diary; for writing letters of apology to those to whom you forgot to send a Christmas card; for responding to those who’ve sent you year-end newsletters detailing the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of their families over the previous year: the career changes, graduations, other achievements and accomplishments, as well as new arrivals and departures. Eliot again: “birth and copulation and death!”

It seems in Anglo-Saxon times the month of February was known as Solomonath (literally ‘mud month’) and Kalemonath (literally ‘cabbage month’), although the derivation of the name appears to have come from the Latin februum, which means purification; there was apparently a purification ceremony held in the second month of the old Roman calendar.

So perhaps that is how we should approach this bleakest of months: a detox for the mind and spirit. Astrologically, the month is influenced by Aquarius and, in the latter half, by Pisces. Make of that what you will.

Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is a Sagittarian.