Today is Candlemas Sunday. It falls forty days after Christmas, and, in the Christian tradition, it marks the official end of the Christmas season. Once, today was the date that all Christmas decorations were brought down. Can you imagine having still had your tree up until now? Today, candles are brought to church, they are blessed and used for the rest of the year. Church feastdays such as Candlemas are usually imposed upon something secular, matched to old rituals that pre-date church practice. In this case, Candlemas matches the Celtic ‘Imbolc’ festival (to which yesterday’s feast day of Saint Brigid is linked), which also involves fire and candles to celebrate the rising of the light as we, in the northern hemisphere, welcome the return of the sun. February 2nd is Groundhog Day in North America, and, hard as it might be on the face of it to find the parallel, it’s the same thing. Groundhog Day centres around the light and the yearning for spring. The most famous celebration is in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania (you’ve seen Bill Murray in the film, right?), where the community gathers to anxiously to wait for the groundhog to emerge from its burrow. If the day is clear and the groundhog’s shadow can be seen, then winter will persist for six more weeks. If the groundhog’s shadow cannot be seen because of cloudiness, then spring is on its way.
Candlemas, Imbolic, Groundhog Day – religious, spiritual, superstitious – but each with a similar message; each with the goal of remining us that new things succeed, the darkness will clear, time is shifting Even when it seems long overdue.
Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve, Robert Herrick
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.
Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.