February 2 – A Day to Celebrate Three Feasts and a Blessing
February 2, a day falling 40 days after Christmas in the western Christian calendar, is a day when we celebrate 3 feasts and a blessing – The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, The Purification of the Virgin, The Meeting of the Lord and Candlemas.
There’s a sort of game going around Facebook these days in which people are asked to give 25 random bits of information about themselves to their friends and ask 25 others to do the same. It’s been fun to see what people have to say about themselves and who they ask for information.
In the spirit of the game, I’d like to give 25 bits of information about today’s feasts and blessing.
1. The Presentation of Jesus has been celebrated since at least the 4th Century AD.
2. First-born sons belong to God in Jewish tradition – originally to serve as leaders of worship/sacrifice. Fathers of the boys were required to offer a sacrifice to “redeem” them from the obligation to serve at the temple rather than remain with their families. This tradition continues in modified form today.
3. Today’s feasts are not the same as the Feast of the Naming of Jesus or the Circumcision – celebrated 8 days after Christmas.
4. When Joseph and Mary offered the sacrifice to “redeem” Jesus, they were allowed to choose between offering a lamb and a dove or simply two doves or two pigeons. They offered the birds, the gift of those who were not wealthy.
5. Childbirth rendered a woman ritually “unclean.” A purification ceremony was required to restore her freedom to interact socially with family, friends and community, including her worship community.
6. Periods of time for this unclean status varied by sex of the child born. A woman was unclean for 80 days following the birth of a girl. For a boy she was only unclean for 40 days. In both cases, a ritual was required to purify her.
7. Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem for her purification ceremony.
8. Simeon was an old man who had been promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died. He recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise when Jesus was presented for the sacrifice of his redemption at the temple and Mary for her purification.
9. Simeon told Joseph and Mary that their son was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” (Luke 2:34)
10. Simeon told Mary that she would be pierced with a sword. Our understanding is that this was the sword of sorrow as she watched her son’s life and mission unfold.
11. Anna was an old woman who spent her days and nights at the temple. She too recognized Jesus and his family, blessed God for the gift of seeing him and told all she met about him.
12. The Feast of the Purification has been celebrated since at least the 7th century.
13. The Feast is known as The Meeting of the Lord in some Eastern Christian churches.
14. Candlemas is a celebration of the blessing of candles (traditionally beeswax ones) for use in homes and churches in the coming year.
15. First evidence of the celebration of Candlemas dates from the 4th century in Rome, but it spread to the rest of Europe more slowly. It had reached England by the 10th or 11th century.
16. Candlemas is probably a feast whose focus was changed to a Christian one from older non-Christian ones that included fire, candles, ash and purification in a variety of European cultures.
17. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Christmas/Epiphany season lasted until Candlemas. It was considered bad luck to have Christmas decorations (including holly, ivy and bay leaves) still in the house on Candlemas.
18. Some cultures had celebrations in which young women carried candles in a procession at this time of year or in which young men and women had to jump over fires for purification before they could be married.
19. These are the last feast days whose date is set based on the date of Christmas.
20. Many traditions link Candlemas to the actions of animals as predictors of future weather – including bears, wolves and groundhogs!
21. Candlemas was one of the days certain taxes had to be paid in Scotland until 1991.
22. The French celebration of Candlemas includes eating crepes for dinner after 8 pm.
23. Mexican tradition includes tamales on the menu for Candlemas.
24. Some believe Candlemas was a “Christianization” of the feast of Brigid the Goddess – an oracle and predictor of the success of the growing season – but little historical evidence exists for this claim. The feast of St. Brigid, an Irish abbess, is February 1.
25. These feasts are celebrated in both Eastern and Western Christianity, but on different dates. In all traditions, however, they are celebrated 40 days after Christmas.
Whew! So … there you have it. More than you probably ever wanted to know about Christian celebrations for February 2!
I think we’ll put the last of the Christmas decorations away, light some candles, and have tamales for dinner!