ON the Eve of February 2nd we remember the arrival of Hadrian and the Blessed Boy in Armenia early in the year 130 AD ... and their connection with ancient rituals of greeting the newborn sun which endure to this day ... culminating in the ridiculous folk holiday known as Groundhog Day.
The court spent much of the winter 129-30 in Antioch, but Hadrian and Antinous set out with a light escort across lower Cappadocia and into Armenia at the end of January 130.
This is the farthest East that Antinous was ever to travel and is observed here in conjunction with Imbolc, also known as Candlemas (Dia de la Candelaria), a Festival of Newborn Light.
In many countries today, the Eve of February 2nd is the day when people take down their Christmas decorations.
This is the evening when Christmas trees are removed from front rooms after having been set up on Christmas Eve.
It is an odd phenomenon that, in the English-speaking world, people put up Christmas trees about a month PRIOR to Christmas and then take them down right after the Big Day ... but in other cultures, trees go up on Christmas Eve and decorate living rooms for weeks AFTER Christmas.
Thus Imbolc/Candlemas is an arcane and largely forgotten non-event in the English-speaking world. Yet in fact, it is the evening when the God of Light becomes manifest in the world ... part of an ancient celebration that goes way back before Christianity and even before Celtic tradition.
Hadrian and Antinous got a first-hand glimpse of these celebrations which, even in their time, were truly very ancient.
Hadrian, who was fascinated with ancient cultures, was intrigued by the Armenians, which explains why he made this particular side trip over the mountains in the dead of winter.
On the Eve of February 2nd, we invite you to turn out the lights in your home and light a simple beeswax candle symbolizing the end of the Northern Hemisphere's Winter Festivals (Halloween through Christmas) and the beginning of the Spring Festivals of New Birth and New Light. In fact, this is the start of the Carnival season.
And, indeed, in some years Mardi Gras occurs in early February. And even in years when Carnival starts later, this night is always considered party night by those people who design and make Mardi Gras floats and costumes ... in Rio and in New Orleans and in Venice, Carnival aficionados will by partying all night tonight.
And the following morning ... bright and early on February 2nd ... people in another obscure part of the globe will be watching for a Groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil to emerge from his burrow to catch a glimpse of the God of Light.
These seemingly disparate customs are all remnants of a religious festival so very ancient that it was archaic even in the time of Hadrian and Nations. Today it is little more than a day to pack away ornaments or a day to get drunk at a pre-Carnival party.
It is scarcely more than media hype surrounding a mammal held aloft at dawn by Pennsylvania Dutch descendants of immigrants from Central Europe.
And it is a day when garbage men throughout Europe stagger under the weight of dried-out old Christmas trees.
But if you turn out the lights and leave just one simple candle burning brightly in the darkness … you may just catch a glimpse of the God of Light. That is what Hadrian and Antonius were hoping to catch a glimpse of on this day so many centuries ago.