The Feast of Candlemas is another of the dark-days winter feasts where light is brought into the house.
Sure, we can turn on the electric light anytime, but anything we can do anytime, soon loses its significance. Light in the darkness is significant.
A candle in the evening is a good way to attune the mind towards sleep. It’s also a route to a more reflective time - and there has to be reflective time during each day. If we can unravel the day, start to let it pass, then we sleep better than if we let our over-loaded night-psyche do it for us. We dream better when we are ready to dream.
To light a candle - or a few candles, is a conscious act. You aren’t flicking a switch; you are choosing the light you choose. There is pleasure in watching the wick catch, and seeing the flame steady, and then, perhaps, placing the candle somewhere else. watching the shadows. and observing what happens to ordinary objects in candle light. Your room changes. Therefore, your relationship with the room changes, you notice yourself in the room, as both subject and object. There is awareness, pause, thought.
Awareness. Pause. Thought.
I like to have 2 candles in my kitchen window every night in winter. My friends always come in the back way, and what they see, as they enter the yard, are the candles in my window. Soft, friendly light, and light that moves as the evening moves, and burns down. You have to decide whether or not to light another candle. And if no-one is coming by, the candles are for myself - it may only be an hour or so that they are lit, but the time becomes significant time, rather than clock-time.
The Feast of Candlemas is a Christian feast - and so today is a day of devotion for those who are religious. I follow the Christian feasts for a number of reasons, not directly to do with organised religion, but respecting what they have to offer.
Candlemas is celebrated as the day that Jesus was taken to the Temple - 40 days after his birth on December 25th. It is also the Feast of Mary’s Purification 40 days after giving birth. So, I think especially of women and children today - especially women and children who are struggling. I made a financial donation to my local food bank, and to a charity that buys beds for kids who haven’t got any. For me, as a non-religious person who likes ritual, and who finds it psychically supporting, the giving out to others, as well as the taking in for myself, is an important part of whatever feast or festival day it is.
So Candlemas is a prompt. I can do something for people I don’t know, and, as I light my candles, I can also think about those I do know who are struggling. I can give them silent attention. For some, that is prayer. The light in the house is a focus.
This is my reading room at home . The angels only live above the fire from Advent Sunday to Candlemas. Then they fly back up to their shelves. It’s a ritual of the house.
I like the way that Church feasts and the older traditions of pre-industrial living come together. Candlemas is a cross-quarter day.
Quarter Days are Dec 25 (Christmas Day) March 25 (Lady Day) June 25 (Midsummer Day) Oct 25 (Michaelmas Day - Feast of St Michael and All Angels). Those days traditionally started each quarter season, and as you see, fall right by either a Solstice or an Equinox.
Cross-quarter Days divide the 3 month seasons into 6-week segments. They are: Feb 2 (Candlemas). May 1 (May Day) August 1 (Lammas) Nov 1 (All Saints Day, but we prefer Halloween). The cross-quarter days fall between the 2 equinoxes and Solstices.
Now it becomes obvious that we are looking at an older, Celtic imprint of the year too. Their wheel of time was moved by the seasons, celebrating rituals important to life. Those pagan festivals were incorporated by the Christian church, so that what we are really looking at is layers of ritual, layers of time. That’s why it’s good to plug in. I’ve written before about using energy you don’t have to generate. What’s on offer? How can you make it part of your own life in a meaningful way?
And there is an important obvious fact here when you look at the dates. Spot it?
No-one can manage more than 6 weeks without a PARTY.
In fact, there have always been a ton of saints days thrown in, as well as all the above. Human life needs celebration. Celebration is part of ritual. Ritual is part of celebration. BUT/AND. Reflection is part of ritual. Ritual is an aid to reflection.
So I follow wisdom I haven’t had to work out for myself - and there is wisdom here. By following the simple stream of ancient feast days, I can locate myself as part of a larger humanity, and I can take time out from the craziness/illness of secular daily life with its non-stop mentality. We are not machines. We are human beings.
We are in mid-winter now in the northern hemisphere, but in another 6 weeks, the spring equinox arrives. Candlemas is already looking forward to that; the defiance of light against darkness.
In America and Canada, this is Groundhog Day. Does the groundhog pop out and see his shadow, realise the sky is clear and cold, and hibernate for another 6 weeks? Or is spring coming early this year?
It might be our own shadow that we see, in the candlelight, and that might give us pause to think about what changes we might make in the 6 weeks of winter left to us. The indoor time, the dark time, is not wasted. Unless we waste it.