February 2 is a celebratory day with roots in ancient lore, Christian ritual and popular culture.
In pre-Christian times, today February 2 was celebrated as the “Festival of Lights.” The day marked the time halfway between the shortest day of the year and the Spring Equinox. Ancient people also believed that this day would be predictive of the weather for the rest of the winter. A bright sunny day meant more winter to come while a cloudy, stormy day meant that the worst of winter was over. The current celebration of Groundhog Day is commemorative of that belief. The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where top-hatted men await Punxsutawney Phil’s appearance and their hope that his shadow cast by the sun sends him scurrying back home as a sign of good weather to come.
If Candlemas be fair and bright, / Winter has another flight. / If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, / Winter will not come again. http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm
Presentation of Christ at the Temple by Hans Holbein the Elder
In the Christian world February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation – often called Candlemas Day – which commemorates the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the temple. This occurred 40 days after his birth as prescribed by Jewish law. According to Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean and needed to be ritually purified. Catholic women of a certain age might remember the ceremony of churching – a blessing given by the Church to mothers after recovery from childbirth – that harkened back to this purification tradition. In his gospel – Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph also took Jesus to Jerusalem because every firstborn child was to be dedicated to the Lord. The lights of Candlemas could also signify the goal of bringing the light of faith to the non-believer. In the Catholic Church all the candles to be used in the coming year are blessed.
Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, In peace, according to Thy word: / For mine own eyes hath seen Thy salvation, / Which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all the peoples, / A light to reveal Thee to the nations / And the glory of Thy people Israel. http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterepiphany3.html
There are many superstitions around this festival. Some custom dictated the lighting of candles to ward-off evil spirits in winter. Some hold that if a candle drips on only one side when carried in church on Candlemas there will be a death of a family member during the year. Others hold that any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th) should be left up only to be taken down after Candlemas Day.
Whatever the origins, these days February 2nd activity seems a melding of religion, culture, custom and tradition. Happy Candlemas Day!