Thursday, February 02, 2006

Candlemas

And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
[Leviticus 12:6-7]

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;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

[Luke 2:29-32]

It is called 'Candlemas' because of the blessing of the candles. Candlemas is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and the Purification of Mary, and is the liturgical of the ending of the Christmas season -- from now until Advent, Easter dominates the calendar. There's a famous poem by Robert Herrick that conveys this sense of the holiday:

The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day

Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench'd, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to teend
The Christmas log next year,
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.


The best known association with Candlemas in North America is Groundhog Day. Traditionally, the weather on Candlemas was held to provide clues about the future of winter:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.


This is the source of the popular tradition that if the groundhog sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter. The semi-official groundhog of the United States, Punxsatawney Phil, saw his shadow today. None of Canada's groundhog grand marshals (Manitoba Merv, Shubenecadie Sam, and Wiarton Willie) did. Of course, in both cases the people involved just make something up beforehand.

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