It’s a Feast Day Somewhere
A few weeks ago, trending on social media was a conversation about when a person should take down Christmas decorations – or how long we could get away with leaving up the tree. Thoughts on the matter ranged from “Get it down right away” to “Leave it up until Valentine’s Day.” A few even suggested bagging up the whole affair and putting it in a spare bedroom. While I enjoy observing the 12 Days of Christmas and love the season of Epiphany, the majority of my decorations come down before work starts back. I learned the hard way that I would be dealing with it well into February if I don’t just get it done in that quiet lag time between Christmas and New Year’s.
While I don’t anticipate changing my particular pattern, I have recently discovered another old tradition of putting away the crèche on the eve of Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. For those of us without a thorough background in the calendar of feast days, that means the final vestiges of Christmas get put away on February 1st – the end of a 40 day period after Christmas – that finds its roots in the story of Simeon and Anna of Luke 2.
As it turns out, the early days of February are party days in quite a few places. I always thought it was just about my own birthday and the emergence of a little ground critter, but it’s more than that. For Celtic Christians, February 1 is the Feast of St. Brigid whose love of the stranger and commitment to hospitality led her to keep a perpetual fire burning at Kildare. (I like her!) For pagans connected to the earth and sky, this is the date that stands halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and so marks the beginning of Spring. Where I live, we actually caught a glimpse of spring temperatures this weekend, and I heard a forecast for tomorrow that even mentioned the possibility of tornadoes just a little to the south of me. That kind of weather is a harbinger of a turning season (or climate change) for sure in the Deep South and makes Candlemas – when the priests bless beeswax candles that might be used for light during the stormy nights of spring – seem right on time. Having fresh flashlight batteries and a good supply of candles of any sort is a smart thing when February weather can bring everything from ice storms to tornadoes. In France, the day is marked with the eating of crepes, and in Mexico it’s celebrated with tamales. I don’t know the origins of those menus, but I have the crepe makings on the counter ready for breakfast, and our February 2nd dinner plans include a Mexican restaurant with dear friends where you can bet I will order tamales.
For me, the beginning of February is my own personal New Year, the end and the beginning of another trip around the sun, a time to look back and to look ahead. Regardless of what the groundhog sees, I trust Spring is just around the corner, and my eyes – like Anna’s and Simeon’s – are open – looking for salvation’s dawn, promises fulfilled, hope pushing its way through the cold, hard ground.
Whether the skies are blue or gray – filled with sunshine or crowded with storm clouds – I hope and pray that you, too, are living with expectancy and anticipation. If your Christmas decorations are still lingering, it might be time to put them away and prepare yourself for a new season… but hold out a few candles and light a fire of welcome for whoever or whatever you may be called to embrace.