Robert Herrick’s poem is for the Eve of Candlemas. Candlemas was marked on February 2nd as the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people’s homes. This was also a time that people brought their candles to church to be blessed. In the Catholic Church, it is the celebration of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation in the Temple of Jesus.
CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE
by Robert Herrick
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).
The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.
Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.
In the traditions and superstitions of an earlier time, it was said that leaving any traces of berries, holly and other Christmas decorations would bring death among the congregation before another year is out. Harsh stuff. And another belief was that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling from a church on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative. Each toll of the bell represents a day that will pass before the unfortunate news is learned.
In Scotland and northern England, Candlemas was one of the traditional quarter “term days” when quarterly rents were due for payment, as well as the day or term for various other business transactions, including the hiring of servants. In England, that tradition existed into the 18th century and in Scotland didn’t change until a law was passed in 1991.
Besides being Candlemas Eve, today is also Saint Brigid’s Day celebrated by some in Ireland. Whether Brigid was a real person or if she was a goddess that Christianity took over may never be decided. Saint Brigid was known for her generosity. She gave away her belongings, and God always restored them. Though she was stationed at a monastery of men and women in Kildare, she traveled the island to give aid.
When people brought their candles to church to be blessed, some also brought their Brigid’s crosses too. The fire element is also in the tradition that Saint Brigid put a ring a lighted candles on her head and led the Virgin Mary into the temple in Jerusalem.
The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, February 2nd, celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. Besides Candlemas, it is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord.
Though it is primarily a religious holiday, it also has ancient traditions and it is sometimes seen as the first sign of spring.
Adding to our weather lore, it was believed in the United Kingdom that good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate that some severe winter weather is still to come.
If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.
This is similar to the Groundhog Day tradition in the United States.
It was also believed that bears and wolves emerge from hibernation on this day to check the weather. If they choose to return to their lairs on this day, it is interpreted as meaning severe weather will continue for at least another forty days.
Some of the same traditions are held in Italy, where it is called Candelora.