Candlemas in the Christian Church and in traditional beliefs

2nd February is Candlemas when the Christian Church commemorates the occasion when the Virgin Mary, in obedience to Jewish law, went to the Temple in Jerusalem both to be purified 40 days after the birth of her son, and to present her son Jesus to God as her firstborn.
Throughout the centuries in Britain Candlemas Day was regarded as the agreed end of the Christmas season, and therefore the time to take down Christmas decorations.  In later times, as we now know, this now happens on Twelfth Night.  In England there were many traditions focused on the day’s name – one declared it as the day on which candles could be dispensed with during working hours.

There are also numerous weather-lore sayings and beliefs that focus on the day. One of these long-standing beliefs was that ‘a fine and frosty Candlemas Day with no snow – more winter to come than that has gone before.
There is also an old proverb that tells us that ‘if a badger finds snow when he peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day, he will walk abroad; but if he sees, the sun shining, he will draw back into his hole and lie low a while.’
We are not alone with these beliefs.  In the USA, Candlemas is known as Groundhog Day: if the Groundhog sees its shadow when it pops out of its burrow on this day because the sun is shining, it will go back in and the winter will be prolonged by another six weeks.
This is also the date on which Bears emerge from their winter hibernation to inspect the weather: if it is bad they will remain outside, but if it is fine they will reach the pessimistic conclusion that this cannot be expected to last and will retreat to their caves.

One of the many parish related traditions took place at Woodbridge in Suffolk with the Carlow Bread distribution. In a 1783 George Carlow, a local Tanner, died and was buried in his garden. He left a rent charge of £1 on the property to provide 60 two-penny loaves and six score penny-loaves for distribution to the poor on Candlemas Day forever. It has not, however, managed to keep this up to the present day.


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