02 February 2012

2 February - Candlemas; Groundhog Day


If Candlemas is fair and clear
There'll be two winters in the year.

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the second of May.

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.

As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day
So far will the snow blow in before the month of May.

When on Purification the sun hath shined
The greater part of winter comes behind.

If Candlemas Day be fine and clear,
Corn and fruits will then be dear.
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half of winter was gone at Yule.


On Candlemas Day if the thorns hang a-drop (with icicles)
Then you are sure of a good pea crop.

At Candlemas Day,
It is time to sow beans in the clay.

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, also known as Candlemas, because candles are blessed today.

This is the 40th day of Christmas, and traditionally the day in which Our Lady fulfilled the Mosaic Law of being purified after the birth of her Son and of presenting Jesus to the service of God.  The old calendars considered the first to be the cause for celebration today, while the new Catholic calendar emphasizes the latter.  Henry VIII would approve.

"On Candelmas Daye it shall be declared that the bearynge of Candels is done in the memorie of Christe, the spirituall lyghte whom Simeon dyd prophecye, as it is redde in the Churche that daye."
30 Henry VIII

It is from this episode in Our Lord's life that we have the beautiful prayer of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, which we say at the completion of the day:

Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord,
In peace, according to Thy word;
For mine own eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all people,
A light to reveal Thee to the nations,
And the glory of Thy people, Israel.

The candles were carried in processions to church, blessed, and then taken home, where – as sacramentals – they were lit when protection was needed from the devil and his minions - during thunderstorms and tempestuous weather, during childbirth, grave sickness, or imminent death, and when hail or frost threatened the crops or earthquakes threatened the village.

Sour ol’ Naogeorgus naturally sneered at the custom:

Then numbers great of Tapers large, both men and women bear,
To church, being hallowed there with pomp, and dreadful words to hear.
This done, each man his Candle lights, where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen, and fortunate to be,
Whose Candle burneth clear and bright; a wondrous force and might
Doth  in these Candles lie, which if at any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm or tempest dare abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard, nor any devils spied,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night, nor hurts of frost or hail… 

AHEM!  And for everyone who hasn't already ended their Yule-tide festivities on either the 12th or the 20th Day of Christmas - this is the LAST DAY of CHRISTMAS!

This is it!

It is over!

The decorations should have been put away yesterday. [Although those people whose outside lights are still covered by major amounts of snow have a pass for now.]

The goose-pie made on St. Stephen's Day (December 26), and carefully saved throughout the Christmas season, is supposed to be eaten today. [Just thinking about a 4-1/2 week-old meat pie is wreaking havoc with my digestion]

The very last ritual of Christmas is burning a small part of what is left of the Yule Log, aka "The Christmas Brand":

"Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Til sunset let it burn;
When quenched, then lay it up again,
Til Christmas next return.

Part must be kept wherewith to teend
The Christmas Log next year;
And where 'tis safely kept, the Fiend
Can do no mischief there."
                                                         Robert Herrick

In place of the Christmas greenery, decorate the table with snowdrops, which are said to bloom at this time in honor of Our Lady.

The snowdrop in purest white array,
First rears her head on Candlemas Day.

Another legend of the snowdrop says that it was sent to console Eve as she remembered Eden and mourned over the barren earth in the throes of winter.  While the snow fell around her, an angel breathed on a snowflake and bade it take form and blossom, whereupon it turned into a beautiful flower.  Eve prized it even above all the plants she had known in Paradise, for the angel promised her:

“This is an earnest, Eve, to thee
That sun and summer soon shall be.”

The angel left her, but where he had stood, a ring of snowdrops reminded her of his promise.


And of course, today is Groundhog Day.

If the ground hog sees his shadow on February second, there will be six more weeks of cold weather.
It is between eleven and one o'clock on February second that the ground hog's shadow is significant.

Well, up here the groundhog has always managed to see his shadow, whether the sun is out or not, because winter lasts through mid-April and sometimes to mid-May (forget three months to a season.  Winter lasts six months almost to the day!)

And since I am less-than-fond of Puxatawny Phil and his numerous easily-startled-by-shadows brethren, here is a recipe contributed by Mrs. Ennis Ownby, which I found in a wonderful cookbook called Mountain Makin's in the Smokies (you can buy a copy here), published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

"Dress and cut it up.  Put in pot, then bring to boil.  Break up spicewood branches, and put in pot with meat.  Boil until the meat is tender.  Remove; then salt and pepper; then roll in flour; put in 1/2 cup shortening, preferably bacon grease.  Then put in oven and bake until it is brown."

Read the recipe outside of a groundhog hole.  It might induce the occupant to a proper frame of mind.

"Shadow?  What shadow?"

Artwork: Fra Angelico, Presentation in the Temple, 1425-30, Convent of San Marco, Florence