Candlemas Day is about … ?

On February 2nd we annually recall the Prestation of our Lord in the Temple. Here is an excellent summary of the commemoration (with some additional links).

Painting of Simeon meeting Mary and the Baby Jesus in the Temple.

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One, we find that Day Forty is February 2. A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infantJesus to the Temple at Jerusalem to offer sacrifice, both on behalf of Mary and on behalf of Jesus as a first-born male. As they did so, they were greeted by the aged Simeon.

In a Sunday-School pageant I once saw, the narrator said, “And now Simeon bursts into a spontaneous song of praise, assisted by the Temple Choir.” His song, called the Nunc Dimittis, has always had a prominent role in Christian worship. It has often been rendered in verse. [ … ]

On the other hand, Groundhog Day (“If the groundhog (or woodchuck, a kind of marmot, which burrows and hibernates) sees his shadow on 2 February, there will be six more weeks of winter.”) is strictly a secular holiday, confined, as far as I know, to the United States.

written by James Kiefer for Daily Prayer

A short history of Candlemas Day (also from Daily Prayer for Feb 2nd)

By the seventh century it had become the custom to begin the worship service on February 2 with candlelighting by the congregation gathered outside the worship area followed by a procession into the Church with all carrying their lighted candles. This was to relive Simeon’s experience of meeting the “light of nations” at the temple. The pastor Sophronius wrote in that century

Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who came to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

So let us hasten to meet our God.

The custom of beginning the worship on this festival with a candlelight procession is the origin of the day’s other name, “Candlemas.”

The festival day’s position at midwinterexactly midway between the winter solstice December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. and the spring equinox the day when daylight lasts for exactly 12 hourscaused it to be a time for taking inventory of one’s winter supplies. One English poem goes:

The provident farmer on Candlemas Day,

Hath half of his fires and half of his hay.

The day’s emphasis on light and life at midwinter gave rise to many superstitions and legends. Some believed that “if the day be clear and sunshiny, it portends a hard weather to come; if cloudy and lowing, mild and gentle season ensuing.” From that piece of weather folklore it is not too difficult to understand how our Pennsylvania Dutch descendants of Germanic peoples who emigrated to the United States (primarily to Pennsylvania), from Germany, Switzerland and The Low Countries prior to 1800 legend of Groundhog Day began.

By the seventeenth century the Presentation of Our Lord was understood to be the absolute end of the Christmas season. Indeed, Ash Wednesday the first day in the season of Lent can follow as early as just two days later on February 4. As the end of the Christmas festivities, it was the day to complete the removal of all the holiday decorations. This, too, became the cause of superstition:

Down with Rosemary, and so

Down with Bays and Mistletoe;

Down with Holly, Ivy, all

Where with ye drest the Christmas Hall;

That to the superstitious find

Not one least Branch there left behind

For look, how many leaves there be

Neglected there, maids, trust to me,

So many goblins you shall see.

(sheet music and links to audio)

via Morning Prayer.

Author: Daniel Rondeau

I am a husband and father and an Episcopal Priest (from the Diocese of San Diego; "Retired" due to illness).

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