Monday, February 3, 2014

Two Young Pigeons and a Groundhog

Punxsutawney Phil after seeing his shadow this year.
Yesterday was Candlemas, which in the life of the Church, celebrates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. In Jewish custom, a mother received a ritual purification 40 days after the birth of a son and an offering would be made for the firstborn son. So 40 days after Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family went to the temple in Jerusalem. Wealthy families would offer up a lamb, but poor families would offer “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24) It’s hard for me to read that verse and not start thinking of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” As a child, I had a book that outlined Christian symbolism to each of the gifts in the song. I’m not sure how accurate that children’s book was, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that the two turtledoves point to this story. 

Simeon and Anna both saw Jesus at the temple and declared that he was bringing “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Maybe it’s the temple or the prophecy of light that connects the Presentation of Jesus to the blessing of candles. Traditionally, people can get beewax candles blessed on Candlemas. I think it’s an odd time to get candles blessed, right in the middle of winter. But really, the whole day jolts us out of the cold monotony of the season: there’s the trip to the temple, the purification of Mary, the offering of turtledoves (or their pigeon equivalent), the blessing of candles, prophecies, and cute 40-day-old infant. In a time that seems so, well, ordinary, there is a whole lot going on. 

Candlemas is also the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  So it is no coincidence that it is the same day as Groundhog Day. The anticipation for spring has begun, even if it is still weeks away. Ash Wednesday can be as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. This year, the groundhog saw his shadow, which according to folklore mean six more weeks of winter. Seeing as Ash Wednesday isn’t until March 5 this year, I’m inclined to think that the groundhog is liturgically-minded. 

Note: I just learned that some people leave up Christmas decorations until Candlemas. I am so using that loophole next year.

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