candlemas

Today, February 2, is Candlemas Day.

The Christian festival commemorates
the purification of Mary forty days after the birth of Jesus,
and developed along with the identification
of December 25 as the birthday of Jesus.

And there are those who continue celebrating
the Christmas season through Candlemas
and leave up their decorations until this day
(and have presumably very dry trees!).

It’s a celebration also associated
with the presentation of Jesus in the Temple,
thus with the prophets Simeon and Anna,
and the identification of Jesus
as light for revelation (Luke 2:32),
and includes not just a candle-lit procession,
but also a liturgical blessing of beeswax candles
to be used in church and home during the coming year.

On this day though,
between the winter solstice and the spring equinox—
on a day signifying the middle of winter—
the gradual lengthening of days,
the growing strength of the sun,
celebrating predates Christianity
in more ancient feasts of lights.

So Pope Innocent XII taught
that the lit candles of this eve’s mass,
dedicated to Mary,
subverted a practice early Christians could not extirpate
of those who walked night streets with lit candles
in honor of Ceres, mother of Proserpine,
looking for her daughter by candle light
through dark winter’s nights.

The light that shines in the darkness
was powerful
long before the birth of the one
we name light of revelation.

I like to think we could be innocent enough
to embrace all stories
of those who search
for the lost,
and bless all who take light into darkness—
bless each and every instrument of light,
and anticipate every small and large illumination
to come throughout the coming year.

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