Sunday, January 31, 2010
Candlemas Day - February 2 is known in the USA as Groundhog Day!
If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter to come and mair
If Candlemass day be wet and foul.
The half o' winter gane at Yule.
Candlemas is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas; In the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at December 25, and Candlemas therefore falls the following February 2. In Christian eyes this festival celebrates the presentation of Christ in the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, as Jewish custom required, and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth and after the birth of their children, all Jewish mothers went to the Temple for the ceremony called the Purification.
The English name, 'Candlemas, refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the mass. The light of the candles is symbolic of Christ as the light of the world all the candles should be made of beeswax.
On the Pagan side it occurs in the middle of winter, with the promise of spring. Due to the poor weather at the time of year, it was almost impossible to have a bonfire festival and candles are thought to have been used as a replacement to move the ritual indoors. Some people believe that the Celtic Sabbat of Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Europe (and especially the British Isles) at about the same time of year. This festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The term "Imbolc" translates as either "in milk" or "in the belly," and marked the birth and nursing of the spring lambs as a sign of the first stirrings of spring in the middle of winter. It may also have been celebrated with the lighting of candles, as slightly longer days begin to be noticable at this time of year.
The eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes and churches. If all traces of berries, holly and so forth weren't removed there would be a death among the congregation before the year was out.
A rhyme called "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve" by Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674) goes:-
"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."
Another tradition holds that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative; each toll of the bell represents a day that will pass before the unfortunate news is learned.
Sailors are often reluctant to set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster — given the frequency of severe storms in February, this is not entirely without sense.
"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."-Scottish saying
How Did the Groundhog Get a Day of His Own?
The lowly groundhog, often called a woodchuck, is the only mammal to have a day named in his honor. The groundhog's day is February 2. Granted, it's not a federal holiday; nobody gets off work. But still, to have a day named after you is quite a feat.
How did the groundhog come by this honor?
It stems from the ancient belief that hibernating creatures were able to predict the arrival of springtime by their emergence.
The German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch brought the tradition to America in the 18th century. They had once regarded the badger as the winter-spring barometer. But the job was reassigned to the groundhog after importing their Candlemas traditions to the U.S. Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.
Candlemas is one of the four "cross-quarters" of the year, occurring half way between the first day of winter and the first day of spring. Traditionally, it was believed that if Candlemas was sunny, the remaining six weeks of winter would be stormy and cold. But if it rained or snowed on Candlemas, the rest of the winter would be mild. If an animal "sees its shadow," it must be sunny, so more wintry weather is predicted:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
The groundhog and badger were not the only animals that have been used to predict spring. Other Europeans used the bear or hedgehog--but in any case the honor belonged to a creature that hibernated. Its emergence symbolized the imminent arrival of spring.
Traditionally, the groundhog is supposed to awaken on February 2, Groundhog Day, and come up out of his burrow. If he sees his shadow, he will return to the burrow for six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, he remains outside and starts his year, because he knows that spring has arrived early.
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