the births of both our children, my husband and I had barely
walked in the door when the visitors started arriving. Granted,
they all meant well, but it would have been nice to have had
time alone as a family.
Once Mary returned home after giving birth to
Jesus, she had that kind of time, thanks to Jewish law. At
that time, a woman was considered unclean for a period of
40 days after the birth of a son and 80 days after the birth
of a daughter. On the 40th (or 80th) day, the woman was to
take the child to the Temple to offer a sacrifice, and to
have herself purified. The feast was originally known as the
Feast of the Purification of Mary, but was changed to emphasize
the more significant event of Jesus’ first appearance in the
So, if you count 40 days from December 25, you
arrive at February 2—the day we celebrate the Feast of the
Presentation of Jesus. When he was presented to Simeon, who
was a just man, Jesus was told that he was “a light for revelation
to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
On this same day, the Church also celebrates
the Blessing of the Candles, formerly known as Candlemas—the
Mass of the candles. Then the candles that will be used throughout
the year are blessed.
As you know, candles are a very important part
of Catholic ceremonies. They symbolize that Christ is the
light of the world, just as Simeon had said.
The custom of Candlemas also, however, has origins—as
do many Christian traditions—in pagan roots. Candles were
important symbols to the ancient Romans. Rather than try to
eradicate the pagan practices, Christian leaders simply adapted
them over time to give them more religious significance.
So you think two different events observed
on one day is enough? Think again. The yearly observance of
Groundhog Day also has its origins in Candlemas.
Early Christians in Europe believed that, if the
sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day and a hedgehog saw
its shadow, then there would be six more weeks of bad weather.
When Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they discovered
groundhogs in abundance and decided they would make a fine
substitute for hedgehogs.
Now that you’ve got three reasons to celebrate
in the middle of winter, here are some suggestions for how:
Create a family candle in honor of Candlemas
Day. Decorate it and place it in the center of the table where
you eat your meals. In the book Holy Bells and Wonderful
Smells (St. Anthony Messenger Press), author Jeanne Hunt
recommends creating a “family victory candle” that is lit
every time a family member experiences a victory, such as
a good grade, making a sports team or getting a promotion.
Read the Bible story of the Presentation of Jesus in
the Temple (Luke 2:22-38).
Make some popcorn and watch the 1993
movie Groundhog Day
(A-2, PG), starring Bill Murray, together as a family.
Have a fun family wager on whether or not Punxsutawney Phil,
the official groundhog of the United States, will see his
shadow. Phil and his successors have been making predictions
on Groundhog Day since 1887. For information on Groundhog
Day and Phil, visit www.groundhog.org.
Next Month: St. Paddy's Day