Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Festival of Candlemas

Sundays are a day of rest and renewal for my family. That was how I experienced Sundays growing up. We went to church in the morning. That was followed by a big breakfast and then an early big dinner ~ Sunday dinner. There was plenty of down time in between. It's always stayed with me, and I am happy for it.

I like to keep some spaciousness in my family's Sundays. One of the things I like to do is to quietly take some time to look ahead at the week, review what is coming, and make sure I have in place what I need, to be prepared for anything outside of the ordinary.

Ideally the meal plan is sketched out, our work is planned, and I know where everyone is going each day. This moment on Sunday gives me time to have a picture of the week ahead.

This week as I look ahead, I see the week brings three things that are out of the ordinary, three, well almost four, feasts or celebrations that all fall on February 2nd, which happens to be on Friday of this week. They are:
  • Groundhog Day
  • Imbolc
  • Candlemas
  • Brigid's Day
Groundhog Day is a fun little day that doesn't require too much forethought or preparation to celebrate.

Imbolc is the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It "crosses" the quarters (or seasons) of the year.

Brigid's Day ~ I wrote about this day here.

Candlemas is a church feast. Whenever we have the suffix ~ mas added to a word, we know it refers to a feast day. Besides Candlemas, there's Michaelmas, Martinmas, and Christmas too.

Sometimes Candlemas, Brigid's Day, Imbolc and Groundhog day are conflated.

I'll begin with Candlemas and come back with some reflections on the other celebrations over the next few days.

~ painting by Lodovico Caracci 
This feast has layers to contemplate. Candlemas is celebrated in the Catholic and Orthodox Church as the Feast of the Presentation at Church of the Blessed Mary, and is also known as the Feast of the Presentation of the Holy Child, or more popularly as Candlemas. It has its origins in what is known as the rite of the "churching of women," the return of a woman to the Church after 40 days of rest, after giving birth to a child. It signifies the return of Mary to the Church after giving birth to the Christ Child, along with the Presentation of the Child in the Church.

 In our busy modern world, the notion of convalescence is becoming obsolete. Women are encouraged to "do it all," which we can't, but that is another conversation. More traditional cultures honor the postpartum period as a time of rest and of nourishing both the mother and baby. This piece by Joyce Gallardo explores this very topic, here.

Was the churching of women a recognition of the importance of rest and slowing down after giving birth, or was it a banishment that needed "purification" of the fleshly body in order to re-enter the life of the Church?  It strikes me as rather odd that it was a question for men to expound on, rather than women. But the women were busy tending to daily life, so that the men could expound on such things. Ha!

Yet we know that the question whether a mother who had given birth recently should enter the church or not has been debated long before the eleventh century. The most prominent example is Pope Gregory the Great's letter to Augustine of Canterbury, as we find it in the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England. Augustine had asked among a number of other questions: 'how long after she has brought forth, may she come into the church? and then adds in the end: 'All which things are requisite to be known by the rude nation of the English.' Gregory answers that even if she came the very hour after giving birth she was not committing a sin, but rather forbidding her to come would turn the punishment she was bearing for the sin of Eve into a crime. But the Christian tradition is not clear and uniform on this question. It seems that Gregory remained an exception and traditions like those of the penitentials which strongly suggested the need for purification became more influential. In the fourth century Hippolytus records that a mother who had just given birth was to be seated among the catechumens. Emperor Leo in 460 forbade women to take communion within 40 days after the delivery, but did not count it as a grave sin, if they did in case of emergency [Stephens 1854, 1751f]. 

This comes from here.

As for the feast of Candlemas - this is a feast of initiation, of possibility, of light, of the old meeting the new and the old giving way to the new, the frozen earth giving way to the stirring of new life. This is why candles are blessed in churches on this day.

This is the time of year in which the light is growing brighter, the buds on the trees are beginning to swell, the birds seem to be singing more, and on some days the feeling of the return of warmth and sunlight is in the air.

We put up our Christmas tree up later than most, close to Christmas Eve. This has wonderful benefits and challenges too. Some years we keep the tree through January, with Candlemas as the final marker - the end to Christmastide. I like the word Christmastide. It feels like so much more than a singular day that has a make or break quality to it, with reverberations that last through the year, and eventually a lifetime. Christmastide makes me think of the tide of the sea that rolls in, pulsating with energy, and then rolls out, as seasons do. Each year bringing something new.

How does this all fit in with Waldorf education and life? This is a really good question. The 2nd of February is a significant day in the rhythm of the year, as it is the mid-point, a cross quarter day, one that falls smack in between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. We are six weeks from each of those turning points in the year. On February 2nd, we are as close to spring as we were to the winter solstice. After February 2nd, we are closer to the onset of spring that the onset of winter. It is a threshold day in the year.

In looking back, and wondering how this day came into celebration among Waldorf Home Educators, I think of Mrs. M, who started the Yahoo Group that inspired (and continues to inspire) so many Waldorf home educators, as the first to make something of the day, in the context of Waldorf education. You can find the Yahoo Group Waldorf Home Educators here. It's been quiet lately, or visit her Facebook group, the Magic of Waldorf to see what she is up to. She has celebrated with a Festival of the Bees at this time of year in the past. 

What are your thoughts on the rite of the churching of women? Is it in recognition of the need for women and child to rest after birth, or in disdain of the female body? Does it matter? What can it inspire within us today? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments.

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