On February 2, while the groundhog, of popular folklore, comes out of the ground to determine whether spring is “just around the corner”, or is still “six weeks away”, we celebrate the ancient festival of Candlemas.
At the Vancouver Waldorf School, many children in the grade school dip beeswax candles to celebrate Candlemas – one to be taken home, and one to be stored away and brought out in time for the Advent Spiral next winter.
In some traditions, Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas season. The tree left up until this day, is then taken down, chopped up and put into a bonfire. It is also, in certain traditions, regarded as the beginning of the lengthening of the days, and is sometimes referred to as the beginning of Spring.
This festival began in ancient times as a Celebration of Lights and of the Celtic goddess Brigit. During Christian times, Candlemas took its name from the blessing of the candles on this day for use in the church throughout the coming year.
In modern times, we look to the hibernating animals to come out and see if it is still winter, and whether or not we will have an early Spring. We can see how Groundhog Day developed, as a secular response to the natural world at this time of year. This is also a traditional time of preparation of the fields for later planting. In fact, some families celebrate by tilling a garden plot for March planting.
For children under the age of seven, the celebration of Candlemas is not verbal explained, but is rather simply experienced. An answer to a very small child’s question of why we do this or that for many festivals is just ‘that is what we do.’ As a child approaches seven, there can be more explanation for the reasons behind things, but please do not spoil the magic and mystery of the festival by all the history.
Some other ways that Waldorf families celebrate Candlemas:
- Think of goals and things you would like to see happen in this New Year together, in this time of new beginnings, as the earth becomes Spring again, and do something to celebrate that.
- Candlemaking in some form – rolling candles, candle-dipping, making earth candles outside in the ground and lighting them. You could even do what we are doing in the school, by dipping candles, then putting some away, to bring out for Advent in the coming year.
- Bake and eat fresh bread, make vegetable soup or vegetable chowders as part of your Candlemas meal and have your meal in candlelight.
- Offer simply made stories and poems about our friends the bees and work with beeswax and honey in some way during this festival.
- Some families tell stories about Saint Brigid or read a picture book about Saint Brigid and her cloak.
- Some families have a bonfire on this day.
Whatever you choose to do, send warm wishes as light, once again, takes root in our part of the world.