Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Today is Candlemas Day.

Hardly anyone knows or recognises this day in the calendar any more, but I do remember it being an important day in our village when I was a child. It was the day when all the candles were renewed in the church and there are various rhymes about the state of the weather for the rest of the Winter being judged by what the weather is like on Candlemas day.

In Celtic and Roman times the second of February was known as the Festival of Lights and - like so many other festivals - the Christians adopted it as their own and used it to celebrate the purification of Mary after giving birth to Jesus.

Now there's an interesting thing. How may of you remember the "churching of women" after giving birth? I wonder when it died out. Certainly it was still practised when I had my son fifty two years ago. As a non-Christian I did not go through the practice, but I remember people who did and I remember elderly villagers who would not allow mothers and their babies into the house until the mother had been 'churched'. Anybody able to enlighten us about this?

The real fact about Candlemas of course is that it is the day which is exactly half way between the shortest day and the Spring equinox. It was the day on which farmers assessed just how much fodder for the animals they had left - the chances were they would need it at least until the equinox so it was an important assessing day.

Do any of my UK readers watch 'Lark Rise to Candleford'? The farmer loves it and so do I. I really enjoyed the books many years ago - they are a real social history of the period and although the TV series tends to romanticise the whole thing there are still elements of it which make me think how lucky we are. Last week the farmer spotted an error when the villagers sat on hay bales to celebrate a pig feast. Not many weeks previously we had watched them harvest the hay crop with scythes, put it into stooks and make a haystack - bales were not invented in those days.

That leads me to another error spotted by a Times reader in 'The King's Speech', when the royal couple were travelling by taxi and eating marshmallows. According to the Times letter marshmallows were not invented and in any case the Queen's favourite sweets were violet and rose creams and she never travelled anywhere without them. (How did she keep so slim I wonder.)

I suppose these little errors make life interesting - as does the fact that festivals like Lady Day (April - when hiring and firing was done), Candlemas and the like have disappeared. Has anything taken their place, I wonder?

22 comments:

dinesh chandra said...

Nice flowers, good weather.

Regards

Dinesh Chandra

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Studio Sylvia said...

Happy New Year Pat, belated greetings I know. I pop in when I can, to read your posts. I don’t visit blogs as often as I used to. I haven’t commented for a while. Pat, I found this post so informative. I have heard the term Candlemas but never understood its meaning. Thank you for the enlightenment.

Arija said...

Candlemas coincides with American groundhog day. Churching is something I certainly have not heard of before, it seems an odd practice.

It is always fun to see obvious digressions from period pieces like the famous wrist watch on Peter sellers in 'The Party'. Modern film makers have little idea of the social restrictions of times gone by, one so often sees obvious gaffes.

I wonder how your snowdrops are coming along . . .

steven said...

to paraphrase and add a small but key detail to arija's comment - "candlemas coincides with (north) american groundhog day" as it is also acknowledged in canada. on this day - in this moment - it is twenty below celsius and a major winter storm is dropping thirty + cm of snow on us! lotsa shovelling coming my way!!! thanks for the informative post. steven

Heather said...

Tradition is being swept away. Our youngest daughter celebrates Candlemas and several other festivals, as she is very interested in pre-Christian religion.
I remember 'proper' corn stooks and an aunt of mine was churched after the birth of one of my cousins - that would have been about 60 years ago and in Buckinghamshire. Whether it is still observed I don't know. I rather like the idea of keeping up the old traditions but there is usually someone who will point out that we are now in the 21st century!

sharie said...

My sister was churched 12 years ago after the birth of her second son. I remember my mum was very insistant on it being done as it was a way of thanking god for her safe delivery and, she claimed, babies did better after it had been done.
I remember her telling me at one time an unchurched woman wasn't welcome into some peoples houses.
I'm quite into history and primitive cultures and it is a belief in some cultures that the blood of childbirth attracts evil spirits to the recently birthed woman. Perhaps this tradition has its roots in this superstition (churching exorcised evil spirits that were still lingering around).

Pondside said...

I'd never heard of churching of a mother, but then I thought about when my youngest sister was born, and that my mother wasn't at the baptism, which took place just a week after her birth. I'll have to ask my mother if she stayed away because she hadn't yet been churched.
I love Larkrise to Candleford. We get it a season late here, and I watch it every Sunday night.

Rusty said...

I have heard of Candlemas, but never about 'churching' a new mother. As for groundhog day - all the critters in the north east NA agree it has to be an early spring. However I must say our local (wild) groundhog was a no-show. Having more sense than us humans he probably decided to stay in his warm bed and not give a hoot about shadows. As for the big winter storm, it's not that bad here - snow and wind, but not nearly as bad as points south of us. ATB!

jeanette from everton terrace said...

Well now I know that we must have adopted our "ground hog day" tradition from Candlemas. I've never heard of churching women before either. I'll have to ask my mother if she has - very interesting.

Feltmaker said...

All I know of churching is that after the mother had given birth to a child (who inherited original sin through the sheer misfortune of existing) the mother too was unclean until she had been churched and then she was considered fit to re-enter polite society. Personally I think it's another way that the church sought to gain influence in the significant events of a person's life. It was quite big in the fens as a practice. Happy Candlemass Weaver of grass :) Fx

Totalfeckineejit said...

Churching? Bonkers! I still believe in a God, so far, and I feel so sorry for her/him/it with all the stupid bloody nonsense done in their name(s)

Totalfeckineejit said...

Particularly , I must add, towards and about women. Feckin loopers! (the priestly fellows I mean, not women, I love women.)

Jo said...

I wonder if "churching" is akin to ritual baths in the Jewish tradition, for purposes of cleansing and purifying.

I tend to agree with Feltmaker in its true purpose, which also probably included obscuring the power of the Divine Feminine.

Wishing you the light of a thousand candles today, Weaver.

Bovey Belle said...

I've heard of churching, and thought it probably related to the Church's take on a Pagan cleansing ritual. I remember reading in Juliette de Bairacli-Levi's "Wanderers in the New Forest" about the Romany gypsy women in her area of the Forest going to give birth beneath a big holly tree near Godshill. They were considered unclean, I believe, for a period of about 6 weeks after the baby's birth. Hmmm - idea for blog post . . .

I love LRTC and read the books many years ago. Some of the scenarios they have thought up are a bit silly at times, but I enjoy it all the same. I noticed the straw bales this week . . . Oh, and I used to be shin kicking champion when I was a kid (must have been my Devon blood!!!)

Jane Moxey said...

As one of your US readers, I am hooked on "Lark Rise to Candleford!" I wasn't ever aware of the books, but have to say as with all British period TV programs, the attention the production pays to details is so fascinating; the hairdos, the costumes, the language, the manners and the different stations in life! Everything is probably a bit romanticized, but I love it! It comes on late Saturday afternoons on PBS where I am.

Sharon Longworth said...

Hello there - I was pointed in your direction by Elizabeth in New York.
I enjoyed this post though I was a bit bemused by the idea of 'churching'
I will go back and read some more - thank you.

Titus said...

Weaver, I've always found this a scholarly and useful resource:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/time/crt/crt20.htm

Scroll down past Epiphany and you'll get to Candlemas.

Cloudia said...

Interesting conjectures!



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The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for the response - yes candles all round last night we certainly need them this time of the year. But we must all spare a thought for the awful Queensland cyclone, so soon after the floods - and for the major snowstorm sweeping across America.

patteran said...

My ex-brother and sister-in-law - he educated at Tonbridge School and a Wing-Commander in the RAF and she a middle class offspring of army provenance - 'churched' themselves after the birth of their first child. So it's far from being a regional or even significantly archaic ceremony. I understand that it represents a ritual purification after committing the 'act of darkness' necessary for procreation. All part of hard-core Christianity's wholesome and life-affirming attitude towards sexual activity.

Tess Kincaid said...

Candlemas is certainly more romantic than Ground Hog's Day. Interesting tidbit about the marshmallows in The King's Speech.

Sanchez said...

I found an interesting post on Candlemas, which presents it in light of various traditions: http://dstp.cba.pl/?p=3855