Saturday, February 02, 2008

Candlemas 2008

I almost let the day slip by without recovering this (those who don't live in God's Time Zone, i.e., Texas, will say I'm too late! Hah!, sez I!) There is, as usual, some information out there which strikes me as ridiculous about the origins of this day, one I know more from the Church of England than any other source, and that only because I have a copy of The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems which includes this Robert Herrick poem about the custom of taking down the greenery on Candlemas Eve (and not before!).


Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, Google presents me with this link which attaches Candlemas rigidly to two "pagan" holidays out of Ireland, and to St. Brigit. Well, maybe, except for the fact New Advent links the date of Candlemas to Mosaic law, which seems a slightly more plausible reason for making it February 2nd. As New Advent notes, the earliest attestation to any observation of the day is in the Jerusalem church, where the event was observed on February 14th, meaning Christ's birthday was, as at least one version of The Cherry Tree Carol has it, on Epiphany, not December 25th. (Interestingly, that carol has roots in Pseudo-Matthew, where it's a palm tree, not a cherry tree (of course), something I didn't know, but suspected. Chapter 20, if you're wondering. Interesting how these "apocryphal" stories persist, isn't it?)

Anyway, the folklore connected with this day is that now, finally, Christmas is over, because the last public act of Christ the child is conducted. This is a very appropriate day for the Nunc Dimmitus, the last song of Luke's four songs related to the nativity, which Luke originally wrote like this:

Νϋν άπολύεις τον δοϋλον σου, δέσποτα,
κατά τό πήμά έν είρήνη
οτι είδον οί όφθαλμοί μου τό σωτήριόν σου
ό ήτοίμασας κατά πρόσωπον πάντων τώυ λαϖν
φϖς είς άποκάλυψιν έθνϖν
καί δόξα νλαοϋ σου ‘Ισραήλ

I mention this because here, at the end of the celebration, comes the άποκάλυψιν, the apocalypse, again. What Simeon sings is that this child, presented at the Temple, will be a revelation, an "apocalypse," to the έθνϖν, the "ethnown," the Gentiles. People like Luke. People like most of us. Lord, now let us depart in peace.

And Ash Wednesday already just around the corner I do not hope to turn....

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