Candlemas February 2nd

From the Illustrated London Almanac 0f 1873

Candlemas is a very important festival of the Church, celebrated throughout the Christian world. It is the day Jesus is presented to the Temple as a young boy when Jesus is prophesied to be ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’, and so the day is celebrated by lighting candles.

It is also called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is 40 days after the birth of Jesus which was fixed as the 25th December by Pope Liberius by AD 354. So it is the end of the postpartum period ‘as the mother’s body, including hormone levels and uterus size, returns to a non-pregnant state’.

It is also one of the cross quarter days of the Celtic tradition, that is halfway between Winter Solstice and May Day. The candles also suggest a festival marking the lengthening days. It is probably another of those festivals where the Christian Church has taken on aspects of the pagan rituals, so Brigantia’s (celebrated at Imbolc on February 1st) role in fertility is aligned with the Virgin Mary’s.

Folklore prophecies for today: ‘If it is cold and icy, the worst of the winter is over, if it is clear and fine, the worst of the winter is to come.’ This suggests that 2024 has the worst of winter yet to come.

It’s also the official end of all things Christmas. For most of us Christmas decorations were supposed to be pulled down on January 5th, but, the Church itself puts an end to Christmas officially at Candlemas so Cribs and Nativity tableaux need to removed today.

Robert Herrick has a 17th Century poem about Candlemas:

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No 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.

First published 2022, revised 2023 and February 2024

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