It’s official; by almost all Christian calendars and denominations, Christmas and Epiphany are over. For many people, both celebrations have been over for weeks. For a few stragglers and holders-on like me, today marks the end. This is the day I put away the last remnants of Christmas and Epiphany. My gold candles and stars will go into hibernation for another year.
February 2 has lots of names and layers of meaning in Christian lore and celebration. It is:
The Feast of the Purification of Mary–Forty days after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she goes to the temple for ritual purification. Until this time has passed, a woman is declared unclean. (The length of time is longer for a girl child). At this point the priest says a blessing and declares her clean according to the Law of Moses. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus–Parents bring their children to the temple and make an offering for the birth of the child. The two turtledoves offered by Mary and Joseph are a pretty good indication of their poor economic status. (Luke 2:22-24)
Jesus’s First Appearance in the Temple–As Mary, Joseph, and Jesus enter the temple an old, Holy Ghost-filled man named Simeon immediately recognizes Jesus as the “Lord’s Christ, the consolation of Israel.” With his sighting of Jesus he is now content to die. His words from Luke 2: 29-32, called the “Canticle of Simeon” or the Nunc Dimittis have been memorized, recited, and sung by Christians for generations:
“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.” (KJV) Simeon blesses the child Jesus and leaves Mary with the daunting words: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against ; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34-35 KJV)
Candlemas–Much speculation and story surround the idea of Candlemas. On February 2, people bring their beeswax candles to church and have them blessed for use during the year. The candles may be a symbol of Jesus as “a light to enlighten the Gentiles.” I like this idea because candles are way for me to create a sacred and contemplative space in the midst of the chaos of my life. They are a way to tell me to sit, pray, study, and be still. Candles remind me of Jesus as the light of the world. Candlemas is about the halfway point between winter and spring.
And lest we forget: Groundhog Day is also about the halfway point between winter and spring. The legend says, if the uber groundhog Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania sees his shadow, winter will last for six more weeks. Today he apparently made his appearance and saw his shadow. Germans brought this tradition to the U.S. in the 19th century. According to the website Fish Eaters*, “The English have a saying, “If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
*For more detail about the Feast Days, traditions, and legends of February 2, check out the Catholic website called Fish Eaters.