Candlemas Day (or, Why Punxatauney Phil is a Catholic)
[The following is a reprint from 2003. Keep in mind that the occasion in question fell on a Sunday that year. Hey, there's midterms to study for, so we're cutting a few corners around here. What's a poor boy to do??? -- DLA]
"When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord." (Luke 2:22-24)
This coming Sunday, February 2nd, the Roman Calendar observes the Feast of the Purification of Our Lord (Candlemas), exactly forty days after Christmas. In some traditions, the Christmas season officially ends with this day, and preparation for Lent can begin. Throughout the Catholic world, the faithful will process in and around their churches bearing lighted candles, which are blessed for the coming year.
About once every eleven years or so, the observance falls on a Sunday. (That means, Padre, that there's no excuse for you to slack off this year. Give these folks a dog and pony show worth remembering!)
The origin of this feast is described in detail, in this excerpt from the classic work of Dom Prosper Guéranger entitled The Liturgical Year.
In addition, Duncan Maxwell Anderson of HMS Blog provides guidance on customs of the season, as well as suggestions for family celebrations. Included are some fun facts about the real origins of Groundhog Day:
"In Catholic Europe, they say that if Candlemas is clear and bright, there will be six more weeks of winter. In Germany, this idea became, 'If the bear comes out and sees his shadow, he will grumpily go back into his cave, and winter will last another six weeks.'
"Then this feat of prediction was ascribed to German badgers.
"And since badgers are not found in the eastern U.S., German immigrants to this country were obliged to depend for meteorological guidance on a species of marmot called by the Indians 'weejak' or woodchuck, also called... the groundhog.
"This Sunday, if Punxatawney Phil sticks his nose out, you tell me if he isn't carrying a candle-holder. He's Catholic, you know."
You just can't argue with reasoning like that, eh?