Candlemas

The 2nd February marks the festival of Candlemas. For those in the USA it is also marks Groundhog Day – and there is a connection because both are related to the coming of spring. The date marks the half-way point between the shortest day of the year and the spring equinox.

Candlemas is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary and it is on this day that Christians remember Mary taking baby Jesus to be presented in the temple. The story is recorded in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:29-32) and features the Nunc Dimittis (also known as the Song of Simeon, an elderly man who saw the child and recognised him as the Messiah). Those of you who have read The de Lacy Inheritance will recognise it as the prayer that Richard made when he returned to his cell at Cliderhou.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

This version is taken from the 1662 prayerbook.

Because Simeon prophesied that the baby would a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles” (Gentiles are non Jewish people) the feast came to be celebrated by the lighting of candles and it is from this tradition that the name ‘Candlemas’ comes.

By the eleventh century there was a custom of blessing, at Candlemas, all the candles that were to be used in the church during the coming year. Candles were lit and there was a procession around the church whilst the Nunc Dimittis was sung. And even though nowadays most churches have electric light (though I know some that haven’t including Stydd Chapel at Ribchester and Holy Trinity in York) candles are still an important symbol of Christian worship.

Snowdrops, the first flowers of the springtime are also known as Candlemas Bells. There is an old rhyme which says:

The snowdrop in purest array, first rears her head on Candlemas Day

And for those of you who still haven’t taken down your Christmas decorations Herrick writes:

Down with the Rosemary and Bayes
Down with the Mistletoe
Instead of Holly, now up-raise
The greener Box for show.

There is another traditional Candlemas rhyme which says:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight;
If Candlemas Day be clouds and rain
Winter be gone and will not come again.

You can see the link with Groundhog Day in that one, can’t you? I am hoping for sunshine though. Even if it means a few more weeks of winter I’m hoping to find some snowdrops to photograph.

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