There was a fresh rax for the dictionary when a friend in Italy reminded me of Candlemas, which was yesterday. As with many religious festivals it has been absorbed from previous belief systems, but is now honoured as the day when Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple and was herself purified. It’s 40 days after Christmas (which itself wasn’t settled as being on 25th December until waaay after the event) (leaving aside any discussion on the notion that a woman has to be purified after giving birth, especially when the prescribed method is to sacrifice a load of food, mmm, who’s going to eat that, I wonder?) and is also midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Candles are blessed in churches as a symbol and literal bringer of light. The pre-Roman festival of Lupercalia had similar purpose and connotations. Lupercalia itself derives from lupus or wolf, nominally the she-wolf of Rome who nursed Romulus and Remus, the city founders of legend/myth*. Wiki has a note of all the various festivals around this date, for those who are interested. Tenerife is in with a shout.
There is a weather lore saying relating to Candlemas, a friend of mine is going to remind me of the Fife one, but it’s along the lines of – if it’s a rubbish day weather wise, that’s winter done, but if it’s fair, there’s more winter to come^. A concordant notion exists in Italy. Please get in touch if you know of similar sayings. I know that older Universities name their terms after this and other religious festivals , which would have made sense to the teachers and students of the time.
“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.” It is also alleged to be the date that bears emerge from hibernation to inspect the weather, as well as wolves. If they choose to return to their lairs on this day it’s interpreted as meaning severe weather will continue for another forty days at least. The same is true in Italy, where it is called Candelora.
More Latin: due to the expiatory offerings made on this day it was also known as dies Februatus , from the Latin Februum, meaning “of purification” giving February its name.
Yet more Latin: candle of course comes from candere – to glow, giving us incandescent, the French chandle, from which we obtain chandlelier, and after that I looked up chandler, which I never realised comes direct from the man who used to sell candles. This was broadened into the person who sold everything**, and then narrowed back to ship’s chandler, the person who sold everything for ships. If you know us then you know why that’s interesting!
Candlemas is also the day for taking down Yuletide decorations, the day for payment of quarterly rents (still enshrined in Scottish law as recently as 1991) and a hiring day for servants. Elsewhere I read that the person who finds the bean in the Twelfth Night cake (and is elected Lord of Misrule) has to provide food for everyone on this day.
And if all that weren’t enough, it’s Groundhog Day, a popular tradition observed in Canada and the United States on February 2nd. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks, and if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early. While the tradition remains popular in modern times, studies have found no consistent correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather. (The film, with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell is well worth a watch.)
Many thanks to @elisabettabackstage on Instagram for explaining part of the above.
*distinction left to the reader
^ 2020 – it rained, a lot.
**I knew that bit.