Saturday, February 19, 2011
Candlemas vs Groundhog Day
This is an article that I wrote for the Anglican Life publication (Newfoundland and Labrador's Anglican paper). It will appear in the March issue
Rev. Greg Mercer recently (February 2011 Issue) presented his impassioned displeasure of a Biblical literalist publication dropped into many mailboxes throughout the Province, that denounced Christmas as Biblically unjustifiable and even pagan in origins: thus true Christians should not celebrate it. I couldn’t help but to connect the whole affair with the recent celebration of Groundhog Day. That might seem to be a strange twist, but hear me out.
Many of our parents would be able to relate to us this old poem, or some closely related version of it:
If Candlemas Day is cold and glum, the rest of Winter is yet to come.
If Candlemas Day is fair and fine, the worst of Winter is left behind.
Not that long ago, Candlemas day was what today’s Groundhog Day is, but that the day, in folklore had become a predictor of the weather is not important. What needs to be noted is that February 2 was known in the mind of the people as Candlemas Day, NOT Groundhog Day. In other words, the day was rooted in Christian memory. Now it has been ‘paganized,’ for no good purposes than a silly news story and mid-winter humor.
Candlemas, in its origins, is rooted in the development of the Church Year. It is exactly forty days after Christmas, and celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and the Purification of the Virgin Mary. The feast became known as Candlemas after the development of the Blessing of the Candles to be used in the Church for the coming year. This arose from the Gospel reading for the Feast Day where St. Simeon says that Jesus would be, “…a Light to lighten the Gentiles.” Celebrating such an event is of far greater benefit to those of the Christian faith than wondering if a groundhog in the United States will cast a shadow.
I agree with the Biblical Literalists that Christmas is not established by the Scriptures, but because they do not have a developed understanding of the living witness of the Body of Christ, His Church, they cannot understand the validity and importance of the Nativity Feast in the Life of the Church and Christian formation. Any brief research of the origins of Christmas will reveal that it was a very deliberate placement by the Church of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at the same time of the Roman Pagan festival of the Sun. Thus Christmas is not a feast of Pagan origins: it is a supreme example of how a Christian Feast can and did replace a pagan feast. The Church Year with its rhythms of Feasts and Fasts developed very quickly throughout Christianity, and for the express purpose of keeping Christ and the Biblical witness in the minds and hearts of those who would come to Christ in and through His Church. Let us understand that when we forget God and His Christ we become pagans, or worst, but when we remember Him we are transformed. Knowing this the Church very deliberately overshadowed a pagan festival with a Christian Festival, and good on the Church!
That being said, the Biblical Literalists are making a good point in noting that Christmas is very quickly becoming pagan, not unlike Candlemas Day is now Groundhog Day. And this is because we are forgetting Christ as revealed in the Church and the Bible. As Anglican’s I believe we must return to the roots of our Biblical and Liturgical witness, to deliberately engage in the Feasts and Fasts of the Church because they help us to remember Christ, and thus be transformed into His likeness, and light.
Lord have Mercy, Brian