A major feast is upon us. This Thursday Christians around the world will pause to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Many know this feast as Candlemas, a term used due to the connection of candles with the day- more on that later. This feast is one of the oldest in Christendom, recordings of its celebration can be found as early as 312. The feast marks the end of the 40 day period begun with the birth of Jesus on December 25th. In the time of Mary, the Laws of Moses dictated that all firstborn children must be brought to temple for the ritual of the first-born. This was to purify the mother after childbirth. Mary and Joseph made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. Practice held that a lamb would be brought to sacrifice by the young couple. Not having the funds for a lamb, Mary and Joseph most likely took the secondary option as outlined in Leviticus. If no lamb, then two turtle doves, young pigeons. [Another connection to the 12 Days of Christmas!!] At the Temple they encounter Simeon, who through his prophecy proclaims the baby as the Christ, a “light for revelation”. By the 6th century the date of the feast had been set as February 2nd, then known as the Feast of the Purification of Mary.
February 2nd! An important day for so many. It is 40 days since the birth of the Christ child. But it also lines up with some other key seasonal dates of importance. The second marks the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Many consider it the unofficial beginning of Spring, a time to plant and to focus on new birth or growth. It is the point of the return of light, signified with the lighting of large fires and candles (told you we’d get back to those). In Ireland the time aligned with the Gaelic celebration of Imbolc. This was a festival for the pagan goddess Brigid, later transformed to honor St. Brigid. St. Brigid was a nun who established the first Irish convent in Kildare. Traditional celebrations in Ireland include placing a loaf of bread on the window for the saint and an ear of corn for her cow. One other, more curious, connection to the date deals with witches! Covens often chose to initiate new members on this day because of the connections to renewal and birth. [Yes- there is another connection on the 2nd- we’ll tackle the groundhog tomorrow]
Back to the candles though. Candlemas includes a mass celebration with the blessing of beeswax candles. These candles are used to bring light into the world for the new year. Families and churches often have lovely displays of candles. It is a time to renew religious vows in the light of the newly blessed candles. Candlemas is another option to take down your holiday decorations, especially those of live greenery or plants. If you didn’t dispose of these items on Twelfth Night, Candlemas is the day to remove them, and then safely burn them. Superstition holds that to keep these items past the second will bring a death within the congregation before another year ends. Take time to clean out your fireplace and light a new fire too. New fire for the new purity! In addition to the candles and fire there are traditions involving food and more. Come back tomorrow to read more about the fun you can have on February 2nd!