CANDLEMAS OR A GROUND HOG’S DAY?
February 2 is halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring. Finally the dawns are a little earlier, and the sunsets are a little later. We haven’t survived the winter, but we are half the way there.
Back when nearly everyone farmed, and lives were more in tune with nature because you’d starve otherwise, there was some sort of holiday at this time. It can’t have been much of a splurge, for the food was starting to get short. Apples were withering and cabbages were rotting, and anxious eyes gauged remaining stocks, and often some type of fasting was in order.
When Christianity spread across Europe it tended to adopt the older traditions and turn them into lessons about the life of Jesus. Christmas celebrated His birth, and Candlemas celebrated when Jesus, at the age of forty days, was presented at the temple. (This was obviously before Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with their child to avoid Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents.”)
When records first start to show Christianity becoming formalized to a degree where it had specific holidays, (departing from its raw state when it was simply a sort of awe spreading through societies,) both Christmas and Candlemas were celebrated two weeks later than they currently are. It wasn’t until roughly the year 400 that Christmas moved to the winter solstice, and Candlemas to the day between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
I’ve read a lot of cynical stuff suggesting moving the celebrations to the time of Pagan celebrations was a sort of plot, calculated to usurp simple people’s affections for traditions. However that assumes farmers are stupid, and they aren’t. I’m more inclined to believe the people themselves simply celebrated as they had always celebrated, but had a clearer idea of what they were celebrating.
Truth was true before Christ and after Christ. Truth remains true no matter what, and cannot tarnish or rust. However people’s awareness of Truth can grow musty and stale, like yellowing pages in libraries of settling dust. What Christ brought was vitality, like the libraries’ windows being flung open and a breeze blowing through the stacks, startling the librarians and bookworms. However that vitality can again grow stale.
When societies slip into the desultory attitudes that breed staleness, holidays lose their zest and meaning. A Santa Claus symbolizes Christmas, and an equally portly Ground Hog symbolizes Candlemas. Few people question what those plump symbols actually symbolize, and you almost never hear Truth or the Christ mentioned.
I grew up in a very wealthy suburb where the staleness took the form of a stuffiness I found stifling. In retrospect I failed to seize many opportunities available to those born into privilege, but I really had no choice in the matter. I simply couldn’t stand it, and got the heck out. (Back in those days hitchhiking was legal and safe, and before I was seventeen I’d traveled the east coast as far north as Montreal and as far south as Florida.)
I finally settled down twenty years later, to the complete astonishment of those who knew me, but before I did I learned a lot about being humble and sleeping in my car, and living with people who have no savings and no pension, and are too worried about today to fret much about tomorrow.
In many ways we want to be buffered from such poverty, but the buffer we create becomes a thick, muffling padding of gauze we walk about in, if we are unfortunate enough to be wealthy. We feel no winter wind, nor summer heat, and we know but a state of numbness, and attempt to hide our gross ignorance of reality by echoing mantras of politically correct inanities, thinking it makes us smart to sound like a parrot.
If that is what you want, fine. However don’t complain to me later, when Candlemas is turned into a bizarre celebration, which makes little sense, called Ground Hog Day.
Even the weather-lore involving the next six weeks after Candlemas has lost most of its meaning, and, if you check the data, it turns out to be wrong nearly three-quarters of the time.
However that weather-lore actually makes more sense if you are a farmer and sniff the wind, seeking any small advantage you might get in your battle to survive.
Back when the lore originated the climate was warmer, during a time called the Medieval Warm Period, and the storm tracks retreated north in the spring earlier. Towards the end of winter often a pattern that has been “locked in” abruptly “snaps,” and the weather suddenly changes. If an upper air trough has been over you, giving you mostly cold weather, as the pattern “snaps” it retreats north and/or backs west, and you are in a balmy southwest flow all of a sudden. However, if you have enjoyed a stable warm pattern all winter, there can be a shortening of wavelengths as the winter pattern breaks down, and you get your cold snaps at the very end.
Of course the farmers knew weather was complex and difficult to predict, so they had a whole conglomeration of sayings and old saws that seemed to hopelessly contradict each other, unless you had spent a lifetime outside. They were always searching the clouds for clues, seeking answers in the ways crows flew or the maple sap flowed, but even then farmers could get caught off guard. New England’s history is full of tragic dates when whole fleets of weather-wise fishermen were doomed.
We are lucky in many ways to be spared what those men endured, but we are only lucky if we don’t become stale, and don’t forget how we lucky we are. If we forget the Truth, and forget to be thankful, our luck becomes a curse.
To conclude, here is the old Candlemas weather-saying which led to the Groundhog nonsense:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.”