February can seem like a dismal time of year as we are in the midst of the dark days of winter. This year in particular we are faced with the added challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, another lockdown and all the stresses and difficulties associated with that.
On February 2nd the church celebrates the festival of Candlemas which is considered to be one of the oldest Christian festivals. Candlemas celebrates the light that comes to banish the darkness. As with many Christian festivals, Candlemas takes place at a time when ancient pre-Christian ceremonies occurred. 2nd February marks the mid-point between the shortest day of the year and the spring equinox, as it falls halfway through winter.
Some traditions say that the weather on Candlemas day predicts the weather for the rest of the winter as this old rhyme outlines:
If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half of winter's to come and mair.
If Candlemas day be wet and foul,
The half of winter's gone at Yule.
There was an old custom that on this day, hedgehogs would come out of hibernation to judge the quality of the weather. When the first settlers travelled to America, they took this custom with them, except there were no hedgehogs. Instead, there were groundhogs. So in the USA, 2nd February is known as 'Groundhog Day'.
Candlemas takes its name from the Festival day - or mass - of the candles. It was the day when people brought all the candles to be used throughout the year to church to be blessed. Some people thought that candles provided protection against plague, illness and famine. They were asking God's protection on their homes and families for the coming year. Clergy would bless the candles and give them to the people. In the middle of a cold, dark winter the lights of Candlemas were placed in every window to remind people of the light of Christ shining in the darkness, bringing hope in the midst of uncertain times.
There is a wonderful passage at the beginning of John's Gospel where he writes about how Jesus came to be a light in the darkness of this world and to shine out as a sign of God's presence among us. 'The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.' (John chapter 1 verse 9) You may recognise these words from the final reading in the Carol Service. At Candlemas, the lights which people were to use in their homes were blessed in church as a reminder of the light of Christ which would be with them at home as well as in church. Whether or not we associate light with anything or anyone in particular, we all need the hope of some light to come in our present situation. Some are dealing with difficult and painful issues, like the illness of a loved one, a bereavement, mental health concerns or financial worries. The rollout of a vaccination programme offers hope that we may be able one day to return to our normal way of life. In the meantime, let us remember that there is light, there is hope and that God is with us.
Wishing you God's blessings
Joy (Vicar of Eaton Bray with Edlesborough)
- February 2021
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.