Candlemas­—One Of The Church’s Oldest Feasts

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If you do a Google search for what is special about February 2nd, you’ll get Groundhog Day or World Wetlands Day, or many other commemorations far more easily than you will find Candlemas Day. Which is a shame as it is an interesting feast day. Also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, it is when Jesus’ parents took him to the temple ‘according to the law of Moses’ (Luke 2:22-40). It is from this passage that we get the much loved and familiar ‘Song of Simeon’—at least it is familiar to those of us who grew up attending Evening Prayer services from the BCP. You can find the entries on Candlemas Day, you just have to search as it is hidden in amongst many other occasions. Which makes sense, given that we are a post-Christendom society. 

When you do read the articles on Candlemas Day, you realize that, while there are still some countries and churches that retain celebrations related to February 2nd, most of the traditions are no longer widely observed, perhaps with good reason. In some cases, Christmas decorations or the nativity set are not removed until then. According to the website “Catholic Straight Answers,” John Paul II began the custom of keeping the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s square until February 2. It seems to me that these days you are going against the stream when you leave your decorations up until Epiphany or Old Christmas Day, let alone waiting until February! This day was also when people brought their candles to the church where they were blessed and then used for the rest of the year. Since we don’t use candles for light anymore, it’s easy to see how that tradition would die out, although candles for use in the Church are still often blessed on Candlemas Day. 

I found this rhyme in an article from the Sunday Times, which bears a lot of resemblance to our modern Groundhog Day: “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight, But if it be dark with clouds and rain, Winter is gone, and will not come again..” 

Candlemas is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian Church, dating back to the fourth century. According to Wikipedia, “there are sermons on the Feast by the bishops Methodius of Patara (died 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (died 360), Gregory the Theologian (died 389), Amphilochius of Iconium (died 394), Gregory of Nyssa (died 400), and John Chrysostom (died 407).” 

In the ‘Song of Simeon’ we read “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32 (NRSV). All peoples. The message of God’s love is for the whole world – it is not limited to any race or creed or nation. Which tells me that even if the traditions may have changed or are dated, that message from this feast is timeless.

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