Candlemas

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Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

From Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve by Robert Herrick

The rough winds of the last few days I can’t get enough of. I’ve learned that gales at this time of year were known as Candlemas winds. Just now, they’re making the night sky a monastery of plainsong.

Clare Leighton Wuthering Heights
Clare Leighton from Wuthering Heights

Candlemas is invisible to modern lives and yet it’s a mark on the calendar we probably need now January has washed over the trepidation and optimism of New Year.

Back there was time for a state of being where the lull let us notice, absorb and reflect (as in light on water: a giving back rather than the ruminating, inward and bovine pondering which is sometimes what we have to make do with). These dreamtimes are shaken awake as everyday January asserts itself, planning motorways and service stations on our personal landscapes. But Candlemas is a place to take stock.

For those of a Romantic turn of nature just the word Candlemas is alluring enough. To approximate, it’s the mid-point of winter, a bright wash of candlelight – for candles are blessed in churches for the coming year – that also closes the Christmas season. Christmas could last until Candlemas, when the Christian world celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary, hence Herrick’s poem is about taking down and replacing the greenery that decorated homes from Christmas Eve.

In the pagan calendar Candlemas is known as Imbolc – ‘of the belly’ – heralding lambing time and the fertility of spring. Candles have watched over us through winter but natural light will soon pale them. ‘New things succeed.’

Lighting up time - Stanhope Forbes

Study for the Carter in ‘Lighting up time’ by Stanhope Forbes

Candlemas is a chance to mark the calendar and keep sight of those flashes of perception, part-revealed patterns and half-realised epiphanies: our plans, those things we might glimpse when the world seems to slow at the turning of the year. Here’s a pause where we can refuse planning permission to those motorways and service stations and designate our dreamtime as a site of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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4 thoughts on “Candlemas

  1. aubrey

    The final sentence is as evocative and perfect as the word ‘Candlemas’ is – there is a lyrical world there, long forgotten. Candlemas is an earthy word, seasonal – it conjures images of the calendar from the ‘Tres Riches Heures’.

    • Thanks for visiting and finding it interesting! Lyrical worlds forgotten indeed, amazing when you discover things like the medieval mind having different words for forms of light. I wasn’t aware of the ‘Tres Riches Heures’ and looking that up has fitted well with all the news around Richard III from the last couple of days too.

  2. Beautiful, poignant post, so wonderfully written. You capture the subtle cusp and needfulness of this time perfectly – the fragility of the ‘light on the water’ and the need to keep its mesmeric glittering at the edges of our vision…

    ‘the night sky a monastery of plainsong’ and your last sentence are absolutely inspired! Here’s to the designation of ‘our dreamtime as a site of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ – and to the remembering to allow it to flourish…

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