One of the things I truly love about the church is the long, rich history of celebrations that stretch back to far before the time of Christ. I love that God created in us a desire to remember and that in remembering, we are given hope for the future. I love that centuries, nay, millenia, of people before us have remembered His goodness and that rituals and rites have been passed down from generation to generation using stories from the Bible to illumine our human condition. And I love that celebrating these rituals and rites in my own family and life connects me to that cloud of witnesses who have gone before.
Candlemas is among the best of these, I think, because it gives Christians an opportunity to look at an oft passed-over story from Jesus' life (i.e. The presentation of Jesus and Mary's purification in the temple and Simeon and Anna's blessing) which then causes us to look back at Jewish tradition (i.e. Levitical commands that the first-born be offered and that women be purified, and the anticipation surrounding the long-awaited Messiah) while looking forward in the Jesus story (i.e. reflecting on Simeon's prophecy was/ is/ will be played out) which can give us hope in our current circumstances (i.e. floundering about in a dark, sun-less, half-frozen tundra-esque environment in the middle of winter. Or is that just me?).
A brief history of Candlemas
Candlemas is celebrated 40 days after the birth of Jesus on Feb. 2. This is the day that Mary would have come to the temple for the ritual of purification. This event is recorded in the Bible in Luke 2: 22-38 when Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus encounter the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna.
Candlemas evolved into a full-blown celebration when Roman Christians encountered pagans who celebrated the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox on Feb. 2 with a festival of light honoring the goddess, Ceres. Christians realized that the words of Simeon's prophecy, "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" spoke to the yearning of all for a true Light to come into the world. Hence the festival became connected with light to reflect the coming of Light. And to this day, Catholics have candles blessed on Candlemas.
Celebrating Candlemas at Home
There are many ways to celebrate Candlemas at home and one can probably make it as simple or complex as one wishes (unless, of course, your tradition dictates that you celebrate in a certain manner.)
Our celebration in the past has been as simple as lighting a candle at dinner and thanking God for sending His Light into the world. Last year, I was tired and pregnant and I thought the older children were sort of limited in understanding at ages 3 and 1, so we managed to have a meal of round foods (to remind us of the sun/ Son with candlelight and say prayers thanking God for His Light.
This year, I'm planning a bit more of a celebration because we've been doing more school-type things, projects, etc. and I've changed my thoughts about whether limited understanding really matters all that much, and, frankly, I'm actually prepared, so the plan is this...
pancakes for breakfast (a traditional Candlemas food). (Edited to add: We decided to have pancakes for dinner and strawberry cream cheese crepes for breakfast -- another traditional candlemas food and, really, when else can one have pancakes twice in a day?) During breakfast, I'll read the Luke story and we'll talk about the tradition of purification and sacrifice.
:: Our first project will be to roll beeswax candles. I bought a kit from Amazon (that should be here in time) and I think the kids will love this.
:: Our second project will be to line up stuff for our play-acting time later. I have two white doves that we're going to put in a basket or something which we'll use later. We'll find our sacrifice and talk about how Joseph and Mary were very poor and how God chose to be born as a poor child and a little of what that means for us.
:: Our third project will be something of an outreach project, though, honestly, I don't know what it will be yet. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd LOVE to hear them...
:: I found some coloring pages of Anna and Simeon on the internet (here, here and here). Those will be part of our day, too.
:: Our supper will be round foods --
probably our menu from last year (we're having pancakes) and we're hoping to have our beeswax candles lit.
:: After dinner, we are going to stand by our creche (yes, we STILL have it out) and pray and then we're going to light a candle and have Mary (Annalivia) and Joseph (Daniel) travel from the manger scene (in the living room) to the temple (in the dining room) where Simeon (Daddy) and Anna (Mommy) will be waiting to bless the baby Jesus (a doll in Annalivia's arms). Joseph will be holding the sacrifice to present. They will probably be accompanied by their faithful donkey/ dog/ cat (Emmeliese) which Anna may have to hold if said animal gets too rowdy/ distracting.
:: After our play, we'll put away our manger scene.
I love Candlemas. But, all lovely symbolism aside -- I think, if for no other reason, that I would love it because it reminds me that generations of people have stood in solidarity with me in the midst of the bleak midwinter, hoping and praying for some sign that we really ARE, indeed, moving towards the New Life of spring. I don't know if it's as powerful for people who have regularly seen temps above freezing on their themometers. But, for me, it is an opportunity to re-focus on Christ's promise to come into the world again. New life WILL come...