February was, for the Romans, the month of atonement and purification, the time to regret sins and put things right. Purification is also the concept in the Christian festival of Candlemas – the fortieth day after the birth of Christ and known as the ‘Presentation of Christ in the Temple’. As such it was the day on which the purification of the mother and the presentation of the son should occur.
Other traditions and celebrations followed as the years went on and they spawned superstitions – things and activities that took on an increased importance. In Britain February is also a time when the weather plays strange ‘tricks’ – confusing animals and plants alike. As both are instinctively influenced by nature the actions of plants & birds & flowers were seen as foretellers of the future – and this generated a whole range of traditions and superstitions as we have today.
The earliest reference to the festival we call Candlemas is in the late 4th century when a pilgrim to Jerusalem celebrated it on February 14th – 40 days after Epiphany (then celebrated as Christ’s birthday). After December 25th was fixed as Christ’s birthday the emperor Justinian I decreed that the Presentation should be moved to February 2nd – 40 days after Christmas. By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced and the name Candlemas developed from this custom. In the East it is primarily a festival of Christ; in the West it was primarily a celebration of the Virgin Mary until the calendar reform of 1969.
Until the tradition of Twelfth Night was established Candlemas Day was also regarded as the end of the Christmas season – and the time to take down Christmas decorations. It was considered crucial that every last vestige of Christmas decoration was cleared from churches as traces of berries, holly and so forth would bring death among the congregation before another year was out.
Let’s now have a look at the above from a different slant – Weather forecasting! Superstitions grew across Britain with regard to our weather happening. At the time we are talking now we have the following:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight; but it be dark with clouds and rain; Winter is gone, and will not come again.”