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Candlemas

Today is the Feast of Candlemas, which commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Purification of Mary. Traditionally, there is a blessing of the candles to be used by the church that year, followed by a procession around the church with the congregation holding lighted candles, singing hymns of praise. People can also ask for a blessing on their own personal candles.

The feast follows the story given in the Gospel of Luke, where Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth for Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and the redemption of a first-born son, according to the Law of Moses. Luke notes that Mary and Joseph sacrificed a pair of pigeons or doves, which was the option offered to the poor – wealthy people sacrificed a lamb.

While in the Temple, the Holy Family encountered an elderly pair of prophets named Simeon and Anna, who prayed for Jesus, prophesying that he would redeem Israel and bring enlightenment to the world. This is significant as the first public recognition of Jesus as a future religious leader, and his first entry into a house of religion.

We know that the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple has been celebrated by the Christian church since at least the 4th century, but its connection with candles only seems to have begun in the Middle Ages. As candles don’t play any role in the Gospel story, one might suspect that the custom began because in Europe, early February marks the midpoint of winter, when it starts to become noticeably lighter. Because Jesus was prophesied to be a “light … to the Gentiles”, there was a natural link between celebrating the return of the sun’s light with the “light of the world”.

Candlemas has many secular traditions associated with it, especially ones connected with agriculture; as the half-way point of winter, Candlemas was a handy reference point. Farmers were meant to have half their winter grain stores left by Candlemas, and it was the date that poultry was supposed to begin laying. It was also the traditional day to bring cattle in from the hay meadows so that the land could be prepared for another crop.

Weather lore is also a Candlemas tradition. In Britain, a saying is: If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, winter will take another flight. If Candlemas bring cloud or rain, winter is gone and will not come again. In the United States, they have the German tradition of Groundhog Day on Candlemas, when folklore says groundhogs will only come out of their burrow if it is cloudy, meaning that spring is on its way; if it is sunny, the groundhog will retreat back into the burrow for six more snoozy weeks of hibernation. In France, they think the opposite is true: a cloudy Candlemas means forty more days of winter, and in Italy, Candlemas is supposed to be the last cold day of the season.

In Australia, we cannot share in these wintry traditions, and as Candlemas often falls during the bushfire season of total fire bans, it would be foolhardy, not to mention illegal, to be messing around with lighted candles at this time. However, Candlemas is also supposed to mark of the end of the Christmas season, and this probably works better in Australia than Europe now, because it is around this time of the year that the Christmas holidays end.

There is a name especially associated with this festival. Candelaria is a Spanish name meaning “Candlemas”, which can be given in honour of the day. It can also be seen as a reference to Our Lady of Candelaria, one of the titles of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin of Candelaria is especially venerated in the Canary Islands, and we learned about this mysterious figure when we covered the name Chaxiraxi late last year. Her feast day is August 15, but she has another on February 2, linking her to Candlemas.

Candelaria is a rather gorgeous Spanish girl’s name, another of the many names which reference light, and in this case, a promise of approaching spring (or in Australia, the promise of cooler weather, which can’t come soon enough for my liking).

Candelaria may seem extravagant to some, and others may worry that the word “candle” is too obvious within it, but it could be used as a middle name if it seems too spectacular as a first name. I think it would be a marvellous name for anyone born around this time of year, and may be especially attractive to those with Spanish or Canarian heritage. The nickname Candy seems dated, but Aria would be smack bang on trend.

POLL RESULT
Candelaria received an approval rating of 42%. 32% of people hated the name, while only 7% loved it.

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