Everybody will love these fun ways of marking the Feast of the Presentation!
Since becoming Catholic, I’ve noticed that the richness of the Catholic calendar has brought great joy to our lives. We’re discovering all these holidays I never knew about before. Suddenly, I’m anticipating them like a small child. On St. Agnes Day our family enjoyed a cake shaped like a lamb after dinner. On Epiphany, the kids and I blessed the front door of our house with blessed chalk and then eat a King Cake. On St. Lucy Day, the kids hand-delivered a bunch of cookies to me while one was wearing a crown of candles. On St. Nicholas Day, I can put my shoes by the fireplace and was rewarded with chocolate coins.
I’m sensing a theme here – candy and cake. Being Catholic is truly amazing! I promise I didn’t convert just for the sweets. Truly, though, there’s something endearing about how we fast from meat on Fridays and give up luxuries during Lent, but on feast days, we actually feast. By entering the Church, we’ve stepped into a whole beautiful culture that marks out the passage of our lives with joyful penance, by acknowledging different seasons that are distinct and unique. It isn’t all feasting. It isn’t all fasting. It’s the recognition that human beings need both.
There’s a holiday I didn’t understand at all before I was Catholic – the Feast of the Presentation. Every year, it takes place on February 2. It marks the moment when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple as an infant – 40 days old, exactly how far February 2 is from Christmas – and made an offering to thank God for the birth of their son. As they entered the Temple, an old man named Simeon saw them, declaring that the Christ child would become the light of the world.
This is why the Presentation is also celebrated as “Candlemas.” This is the day the priest brings out all the new candles he’s ordered for the coming year and blesses them before Mass. Those candles represent the fact that the light of the world is here, that whatever shadows have darkened our days are going to pass. It’s a moment of hope and joy, and it’s worth celebrating.
Here are a few traditional ways to celebrate Candlemas …
Cheer on the groundhog!
Candlemas also happens to be Groundhog Day, when a groundhog named Phil comes out of his winter home and tries not to get too scared of his shadow. Believe it or not, the two holidays are connected. Here’s an old English saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, Go winter, and come not again.
February 2 is halfway between the start of winter and the official start of spring, so after a few months of early, dark, cold nights it makes sense to indulge in a little hopeful weather predicting. The candles, of course, represent the coming of the light into a dark world as the Church calendar progresses towards the brightness of Easter. The Groundhog tradition isn’t random – it sprang from Christian roots.
Go to Mass for the procession
This year, it’s easy to remember Candlemas because it falls on a Sunday, but most years it’s a different day of the week. Find a parish with a Mass that includes the full blessing of candles and the procession. It’s a beautiful ritual that appeals to the imagination of children. These are the sort of church experiences that they remember.
Yes, there are desserts involved in this holiday, too. The traditional Candlemas treat is crepes. Ideally, the family gets together and each person cooks his or her own crepe, including a challenge to see who can flip the crepe with the pan most gracefully without breaking it. Optional pro-level challenge: Hold a coin in one hand while flipping the crepe with the other. I don’t know the symbolism of it — I think the crepe represents the sun, but anytime I get the chance to eat crepes I don’t ask questions.
There’s a type of flower that grows widely throughout Europe and North America called the Galanthus flower. More commonly, it’s known as a Snowdrop, or a Candlemas Bell, because they often bloom right around the time of Candlemas. It’s bad luck to pick them before the holiday but on the day itself I can’t think of a better way to decorate the dining room table for dinner.
Even if our furry animal friend predicts six more weeks of winter, and even if the days are still short and dark, the celebration of Candlemas speaks a simple, joyful truth – every shadow gives way to the light, and every fast is followed by a feast.
Candlemas: A photo essay