Today is Candelmas. It is considered a day of purification, renewal, and hope. At this time, we have reached the midway point of winter and Spring is on its way. More than that though, this is a special celebration in the Church where we commemorate Mary’s obedience to Mosaic law: Luke 2:22-24 – “And after the days of her purification, according to the laws of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.” Today is exactly 40 days after Christmas, the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Forty days following giving birth, a Jewish woman was commanded to bring herself to the Temple for a rite of purification as stated in Leviticus 12:2-8: “If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days according to the days of separation of her flowers. And on the eighth day the infant shall be circumcised; But she shall remain three and thirty days in the blood of her purification. She shall touch no holy thing; neither shall she enter into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled.”
Because Mary was born of Immaculate Conception and was holy, the Church holds the position that she did not need this purification – indeed, this is why her adherence to Mosaic law is considered even more sacred because she didn’t need to do it but she chose to do it to show her obedience to the Law. There is an old Catholic tradition known as the rite of the Churching of Women in which women imitate Mary’s actions after giving birth. In all honesty, I have never seen or heard of any women or churches taking part in this practice but I have heard that there are some regions in which this custom is still practiced. If you’d like to read more about this custom and what the rite entails, this site outlines it: http://www.fisheaters.com/churchingofwomen.html
Being the earliest flowers to bloom, this is often the time when snowdrops begin to poke their heads above ground. Snowdrops are nicknamed “Candelmas Bells” and legend has it that they sprang up at the hand of an angel who then pointed them out as a sign of hope to Eve. It is even considered bad luck to bring snowdrops inside the home prior to Candelmas but to bring them in on this day is said to purify the home.
In some places, the eve before Candelmas is celebrated by taking the Christmas tree down and putting away the Nativity scene– Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation in the temple being the signal of the end of the Christmas season. In some Latin countries, the Nativity scene is then replaced with a statue of Jesus as a child sitting on a chair, symbolizing his growth and the need to turn our attention from the baby Jesus to the adult Jesus whom we honour during Lent and Easter.
Simeon, in the book of Luke chapter 2, gave a prophecy to Mary and at that time, he referred to the infant Jesus as the light of the world. So, candles and light play an important role in the Candelmas celebration. At Mass, candles are blessed and handed out to the congregation. In some churches, when the priest hands a congregant a candle, they are to kiss it and then the priest’s hand (apparently this is the same custom used in some places for the handing out of the palms on Palm Sunday as well) but in my church, we simply make the sign of the cross and say Amen.
The custom then is to light the candles, sing hymns, and carry them in procession. Some people bring candles from home to be blessed as well (although Church tradition dictates that they must be at least 51% beeswax) that are then used on family altars and for family devotionals. It is also customary to light these candles during times of trouble and after dusk on All Saints’ Day. In Poland, the candles brought from home are decorated with symbols and ribbons and then taken home and placed before a statue of Mary where they are left to burn throughout the night.
This is also Groundhog Day and strange though it may seem there do seem to be a few connections between these two holidays. Groundhog Day actually began as a holiday in Pennsylvania originated by the Germans as part of their Candelmas celebrations. It has ties to European superstitions in which bears and badgers were seen as weather predictors. It was believed in many places that a bear would leave hibernation on Candelmas Day and venture outside to check and see if winter was over yet. If it saw its shadow, it would become afraid and run back into its den to return to hibernation for another six weeks. Somehow when the Germans settled in Pennsylvania this tradition was transferred from a bear to a groundhog.
Perhaps this lore began because of the ties between Imbolc, Candelmas Day, and the legend of St. Brigid and the view that all of these were symbolic of the midpoint of winter, the promise of a coming spring, and the hope representative of the increasing light from the days getting longer. An old Scottish poem stated:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
Our Groundhog Day 2010 – not very bright and sunny out but there are some shadows!
From this seemingly evolved the idea that if the groundhog comes from his burrow on this day and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter yet to come. Some places hold Groundhog Day festivals in celebration of this day – generally where speeches are made, feasts are served, and skits are put on. In some areas of Pennsylvania in which the German population remains strong, there is even a tradition that during the dinner, only German may be spoken at the table. If English was spoken, a coin must be put into a jar in the middle of the table for each word uttered.
As most people know, the largest of the Groundhog Day celebrations is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as shown in the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. The groundhog there is known as Punxsutawney Phil.
The University of Dallas in Texas has made Groundhog Day an official university holiday and they hold a large celebration on that date every year. Here in Canada, our most famous Groundhog Day celebration is held in Wiarton, Ontario (a small town of only a couple thousand people in between Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay) where our groundhog is known as Wiarton Willie.
Video of Phil finding his shadow today:
Check out this adorable Punxsatawney Phil made by Sister Diane on the Craftypod site: http://www.craftypod.com/2010/02/02/phil-phil-is-that-you/
Wiarton Willie became well known in Canada by 1956. The original Willie was an albino groundhog who died in hibernation during the winter of 1999. There was quite a furor over this when his handlers discovered this just as they were making preparations for the Groundhog Day celebration. In fact, his death was publicized all over the world! That Groundhog Day there was a public display of a small casket with “Wiarton Willie” in it – pennies on his eyes, and a carrot between his paws. Mind you, this turned out to be just a symbolic stuffed Willie. The real one was far too decomposed to place on display but there was such a public outcry and so much media coverage that it was felt necessary to “honour” Willie publicly in some way – especially given that the Wiarton Groundhog Festival brings in over 20,000 tourists to town each year.
The festival in Wiarton, Ontario:
An adorable groundhog iPod case http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2010/02/how-to_groundhog_ipod_touch_ca.html
Statistical studies show that the groundhogs in general have only been accurate in their weather predictions about 37% of the time despite Wiarton’s claims that Willie accuracy rate is 90%. They insist that Willie is the truest and most accurate Groundhog Day groundhog because he was born on the 45th parallel which is the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole.
Wiarton Willie’s webcam: http://www.wiartonwilliecam.com/#
Crepes are a traditional Candelmas Day food in many places. Recipe over on my other blog, The Red Apple Tearoom: http://islandtearoom.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/crepes-for-candelmas-day/