Feast of Candlemas

The Feast of Candlemas

The eve of this Feast is the absolutely last (and best) day for taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the crib, etc. In some Latin countries, the crib isn't just put away, but is replaced with a figure of the Child Jesus sitting on a chair, acting as a sign that it is time for the devotion to the Divine Childhood to give way to a focus on the grown-up Saviour and the public ministry, forty days of fasting, and Passion to come.

In any case, when Candlemas is finished, all feelings of Christmas give way to the penitential feelings of Septuagesima and then Lent. The English poet, Robert Herrick (A.D. 1591-1674), sums it up in his poem "Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve" -- and reveals a folktale in the process:

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary, and so

Down with the bays and misletoe ;

Down with the holly, ivy, all

Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall ;

That so the superstitious find

No one least branch there left behind :

For look, how many leaves there be

Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)

So many goblins you shall see.

This very ancient carol also speaks of the departure of Christmas on this day. It is called "I Am Christmas," and was written by James Ryman, a Franciscan Friar, ca. 1492. Note that the reference to Hallowtide (the days of the dead centring around All Saints Day) here refers to the fact that it was during Hallowtide that monarchs used to announce where they would be spending Christmas.

I Am Christmas

Here have I dwelled with more or lass

From Hallowtide till Candelmas,

And now must I from you hens pass;

Now have good day.

I take my leve of king and knight,

And erl, baron, and lady bright;

To wilderness I must me dight;

Now have good day!

And at the good lord of this hall

I take my leve, and of gestes all;

Me think I here Lent doth call;

Now have good day!

And at every worthy officere,

Marshall, panter, and butlere

I take my leve as for this yere;

Now have good day!

Another yere I trust I shall

Make mery in this hall,

If rest and peace in England fall;

Now have good day!

But oftentimes I have herd say

That he is loth to part away

That often biddeth 'Have good day!";

Now have good day!

Now fare ye well, all in fere,

Now fare ye well for all this yere;

Yet for my sake make ye good chere;

Now have good day!

Candlemas Day is also known as "Groundhog's Day" in America, the day when, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there'll be 6 more weeks of Winter. All Europeans have a similar belief about how Candlemas weather portends the length of winter. The English have a saying, "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The Germans also have a few sayings about how the weather at Candlemas bodes ill or well for the nearness of Spring:

Wenn der Bäzu Lichtmess

seinen Schatten sieht,

so kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch.

Ist's zu Lichtmess mild und rein

wirds ein langer Winter sein.

Wenn's an Lichtmess stürmt und schneit,

ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit;

ist es aber klar und hell,

kommt der Lenz noch nicht so schnell

When the bear sees

his shadow at Candlemas,

he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.

If Candlemas is mild and pure,

Winter will be long for sure.

When it storms and snows on Candlemas Day,

Spring is not far away;

if it's bright and clear,

Spring is not yet near.

German immigrants to the United States brought their Candlemas traditions with them when they settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Each year, a great to-do is made over the town's official groundhog, "Punxsutawney Phil," emerging from his den to predict the weather, said prediction being broadcast by all the major media in the U.S.A. The movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, centres around an endless Groundhog's Day in Punxsutawney, a town located at the intersection of Rt.36 and Rt.119 in western Pennsylvania.