The Feast of the Purification, Candlemas
For most of us, the last remnants of Christmas experienced by this time are a few pine needles found stuck in the carpet or the reception of Christmas cards sent out by academics who find the confluence of Christmas and the end of the semester just a bit overwhelming. In Europe, however, today is the last day of the Christmas season and it will be tomorrow that the crib scene will come down from the piazza in front of St. Peter’s and from all the rest of the Roman Churches. The Christmas season for those who truly understand its liturgical significance, occurs after the feast, while advent is a time of prayerful preparation.
In today’s feast, the last feast of the Christmas season, we see a recapitulation of many of the theological themes present at Christmas and Epiphany: Jesus comes as light to the world, he comes to all nations and, especially pronounced in the gospel of Luke as we hear in today’s reading, he comes to the poor. In northern Europe, today’s feast occurs 40 days after the birth of Jesus, a time when daylight becomes noticeably longer. It is not surprising that this day became associated with light and that people would have their candles blessed, the only means of physical light in a room, as a reminder that the ultimate light for their lives was Jesus. Hence the other name for today: Candlemas.
Today is also the mid-point between the first and the last day of winter so it is not surprising that prognostication would occur concerning the continuation of winter as seen in this traditional German poem.
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.
Wenn der Bäzu Lichtmessseinen Schatten sieht,
so kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch.
Ist’s zu Lichtmess mild und reinwirds 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.
This poem and its message came to the United States packed within the baggage of German immigrants who settled in the area of western Pennsylvania, home of the now famous ground hog (no bears left in Pennsylvania), Punxsutawney Phil.
So today we pray that our friend Phil does not see his shadow and that the light of Christ that came to us at our Lord’s nativity continue to shine in our lives and that we have the courage and strength to share that light with others in imitation of our Blessed Mother.