Skip to main content

Light and shadows: The forgotten festival of Candlemas

We're almost halfway there!

Halfway, that is, between the dark and the light.  Halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox.  Halfway through winter, and heading towards spring.

There has been a festival around this date since ancient times.  If you're in America (or remember the film) you might know February 2nd as Groundhog Day.  According to legend, if a groundhog (or bear, or badger) emerges from its burrow and can see its shadow in the sunlight, there will be six more weeks of winter weather.  If the day is cloudy, the forthcoming weather will be mild instead.

via Wikimedia Commons

On the Christian calendar, however, the 2nd of February is Candlemas.  It's a rather forgotten festival - we don't get a day off or anything - but I found out a little more about it recently.

Candlemas is forty days after Christmas and, technically, the end of the Christmas season.  The festival commemorates the baby Jesus being taken to the temple by his parents for a ceremony a little like a baptism.  Mary and Joseph, however, had to sacrifice a couple of pigeons - and I'm sure the Church of England is very glad they don't have to do that!

When Jesus was brought into the temple, a man named Simeon was there; righteous and devout, and looking forward to the consolation of Israel.  He came forward, took the month-old baby in his arms, and prayed, "Lord, let your servant now depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation... a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

That connection with the light has given Candlemas its name, and its main tradition: blessing the candles that will be used in the church for the year ahead. In my Bible study group this morning we prayed this prayer, taken from thisischurch.com:

A Prayer to Bless Candles.
God our Father, whose Son was revealed to Simeon as the light of the nations, and the glory of Israel, let these candles be to us a sign of his light and presence, that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we may live by the light of faith until we come to the light of glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let the flame of your love never be quenched in our hearts, O Lord. Waking or sleeping, living or dying, let us delight in your presence. Let the flame of your love brighten our souls and illumine our path, and let the majesty of your glory be our joy, our life and our strength now and for ever. Amen. Johann Arndt, 1555-1621

By Richard W.M. Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

But if you don't feel like blessing candles or looking for groundhogs, there are all manner of other traditions associated with Candlemas.  The Mexicans eat tamales, the French eat crepes or boat-shaped biscuits named navettes.  Catholics celebrate the purification of the Virgin Mary after Jesus' birth, which probably explains some vague references to a "Wives' Feast" on this day - a girls-only party.

Navettes by Véronique PAGNIER, via Wikimedia Commons

So, however you want to celebrate this Friday, go for it!  Light a candle, fry a crepe, and don't forget to watch out for small furry animals.

Comments

Unknown said…
Gutted I missed this talk on Tuesday! Will be blessing a candle at home and celebrating with family. Never heard of candlemas - glad to add it to the celebration calendar!

Popular posts from this blog

Baby Language

For some reason baby equipment is an area in which American English differs markedly from British English. As well as learning how to care for a baby, we had to learn a whole new vocabulary! Fortunately we are now fluently bilingual, and I have compiled a handy US-UK baby dictionary for you. Diaper n. Nappy Mom says if you can read this change my diaper. The first time you change one of these you will be all thumbs and stick the little adhesive tabs to yourself, the baby and probably the changing mat before you get them where they ought to go. A few years later you will be able to lasso a running toddler and change them before they even know what's happened (yes, I have seen it done). You will also get through more diapers than you ever thought possible, creating scary amounts of expense and waste. Hence we are now mostly using: Cloth diaper n. Reusable nappy Cool baby. No longer those terry squares, the main drawback is that there are now so many types it can be qu

our new apartment

Moving was a slightly surreal experience given that our new place looks almost exactly the same as the old one, except for being a different layout. That's what you get for living in a throw-'em-up-and-pack-'em-in apartment complex I guess - albeit a very nice one. So, entering apartment 433: To your right is the master bedroom: with en-suite bathroom: and looking back, from your left, that's a walk-in closet, door to the hallway and door to the bathroom: Following the layout so far? OK, go back to the hallway and put your back to the front door again, and this time walk straight forwards into the sitting room: As you can see, ahead of you is the door to the balcony: for which I have grand plans for a herb garden and other plants. Leading off the living room is the dining area: and if you walk through that and round to your right you reach the kitchen: Go back through the living room again: and if you turn right (

Speedy Steamed Pudding

One of the highlights of being in catered halls for a couple of years at university was the sponge puddings. Great big sheets of chocolate or vanilla sponge, carved into hefty blocks and doused with thick custard. The main courses were edible at best, but those puddings would fill you up for a week. Good solid puddings, whether baked, steamed or boiled, have been a mainstay of English cooking for centuries. Something about the cold, damp, dark winters inspired British cooks to endless variations on suet, jam, currants, custard and other comforting ingredients. Once I left the nurturing environs of my parents' house and university halls, pudding stopped being an everyday affair and became a more haphazard, if-I-feel-like-making-any event. And steamed puddings especially, with their two hours over simmering water, don't really lend themselves to spur of the moment dessert-making. However, technology has moved on since those first days of puddings. I'd been vaguely