Christmas ends today!
This will come as a shock to the secular world, which started doing Christmas about October and finished it long ago. This is an illustration of how far our society is from its Christian roots. Although, until relatively recently, we kept the twelve days of Christmas, that is from 25 December until 6 January, which the Church still does before moving into Epiphany, that season prolonged the celebrations until now – and there was a good reason for it. Not only did it keep up peoples’s spirits in the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, it allowed for Candlemas to be the hinge – because it is a celebration of light and hope.
It is so, literally, marking as it does the presentation of the Christ child in the Temple, but it does so literally in another sense. The evenings have just started to get lighter – and as illustrated above, the first snowdrops are showing their pretty white heads – Candlemas bells as they were known of old. On my lunch-time walk there was actually some warmth in the sunshine for a while, and amidst the fields sodden with far too much water, you could see things beginning to grow. It was a sign that the world turns and spring is on its way.
Never, in my short lifetime have we needed that hope more.
As we celebrate the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Jewish law provided for the ritual purification of new mothers forty days after birth – I know, don’t go there, and don’t get me started) and Christ’s presentation in the Temple, we say in our service today with especial passion the worderful words of Symeon in the “Nunc Dimittis”
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace :
according to thy word.
2 For mine eyes have seen :
3 Which thou hast prepared :
before the face of all people;
4 To be a light to lighten the Gentiles :
and to be the glory of thy people Israel
As the old man sees the “consolation of Israel” hope is renewed in him – and in us.
In the English-speaking world the celebration of candlemas goes back to Anglo-Saxon times, at least that’s our first record of it. It refers to the custom of bringing candles to church to have them blessed, and then processing back home – again, literally, light in the dark times. Our faith moves most wonderfully with the rhythmns of the year, and if we keep to the seasons of the Church caldendar, then we find ourselves wonderfully in tune with the light that came into the world only forty days previously.
I am not qualified to say anything about the American custom of Groundhog day – though I know those who are, but I will leave you with an old rhyme – and my best wishes for a holy and happy Candlemas.
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.