Out of the darkness into the light.

It’s been reassuring these past few days to notice that the daylight is lasting until almost 5pm and that when the sun does shine it has a quality that promises springtime. Today is an important celebration of light. It is Candlemass.

Candlemass is a Christian celebration that marks forty days after the birth of Jesus Christ – the day on which his mother Mary would have gone to the temple to be purified. The tradition of purification following childbirth has only very recently declined and although in later years it was marked as a thanksgiving ceremony it was (and may still be) surrounded in superstition. After I was born my mother’s neighbour would not allow her to visit her house until she had been ‘churched’ lest she should bring in some bad luck or evil spirit.

Candlemass is also associated with Jesus as the light of the world and is one of the ceremonies that survived Henry VIII’s Reformation. He proclaimed in 1539:

‘On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is clone in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in the church that day.’

You’ll notice that he did not make reference to the purification of Mary.

The day is also associated with the predictions of the coming of springtime. If any of you still have any holly lurking from Christmas it should have been taken down last night:

‘Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise
The greener box for show.’

An old European (German I think) proverb relates that if the badger comes out of his sett on Candlemass Day and finds snow he will ‘walk abroad’, but if the sun is shining he will return to his hole. Which is why some of you may be celebrating Groundhog Day. Let us hope for snow and for an early Spring.

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