The snowdrop Galanthus nivalis (meaning 'milk flower' from the Greek gála "milk" and ánthos "flower") emerges from the frozen ground to announce the end of the British wintertime. It is one of the first flowers of spring, symbolising purity and the cleansing of the earth after winter.
Snowdrops and white candles are used at Imbolc (Gwyl Ffraed) to represent purification. Imbolc refers to the return of the life forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions.
In folklore, the snowdrop is meant to represent 'the passing of sorrow' and are also associated with bad luck. Often found in graveyards, the flower is said to resemble a lifeless body wrapped in a shroud. Once described by a Sussex villager and documented:
"it looked for all the world like a corpse in its shroud, and that it always kept itself quite close to the earth, seeming to belong more to the dead than to the living."
- "Some West Sussex Superstitions Lingering in 1868", by Mrs Charlotte Latham (1878)
Some people believe snowdrops to be a death-token, if the flowers are picked and brought indoors. In Wales the belief prohibits bringing snowdrops indoors on St Valentines Day only.
Impressive displays of snowdrops can be found in the churchyard of Cheriton.