“The snowdrop, in purest white array, first rears her head on Candlemas Day.”
Snowdrops are known as Candlemas Bells
Candlemas day is 2nd February and it is true that it was this weekend that I first saw a carpet of snowdrops. One of their common names is Candlemas Bells. They are usually the first flower that we see in the New Year. Technically there are others, but it is the snowdrop that seems to resonate. For many of us it means hope. It is the sign of new growth and new beginnings. It is the promise of spring and that this tiny flower is surviving despite the cold and the dark. Snowdrops bring a lift in spirits.
Snowdrops and Snow
One of the earliest legends of the snowdrop is when the first winter was on the earth and Eve was pining for the beautiful flowers of the fields. An Angel caught a flake of driving snow, breathed life into it and transformed it into a flower for her. It was said to break the spell of winter and, at the same time, offer divine mercy.
Literally translated ‘Galanthus Nivalis’ means milky white flowers of the snow. They originated from alpine regions of China, Greece and Turkey hence their endurance of the cold weather. The French know Snowdrops as ‘Perce-neige’ meaning snow piercers and we can sometimes have both the cold snow on the ground and the snowdrops flowering simultaneously symbolising both the winter and the potential of spring.
Meanings of Snowdrops
Snowdrops were gathered at Candlemas to decorate Churches in this country before the reformation. They were symbols of purity, which was connected to the rite of purification that Mary observed by going to the temple forty days after Christmas. However, it was considered unlucky to pick snowdrops before Candlemas. Rather than hope or purity, they became a representation of death or mourning. The white outer sepals were considered to be like a shroud and by bringing them indoors snowdrops may invoke a parting or death. I choose not to pick them because they are wildflowers anyway but why tempt fate? I much prefer to see them outside. On a snowy, dull, cold or wet day, there is nothing as reviving as seeing clumps of snowdrops nodding their heads in acknowledgement of the season to come.
Ruth Goudy – The Flower Writer