Candlemas Bells

Walking in Wales at the weekend Fiona and I came across an incredible patch of snowdrops. They were in woodland as we worked our way down from the Iron-age hill fort at the top of Allt yr Esgair to the A40 near Talybont-on-Usk. These early flowers are always a welcome sight, a sign that the year is turning and Spring is coming. They are also reminders of the ‘Old Christmas’ a period of 40 days from Christmas Day until the festival of The Presentation of Christ, which marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple by Mary and Joseph (described in Luke 2:22-40). These forty days represent the period of time for Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and the presentation the fulfilment of the command to dedicate firstborn sons  The festival has an older name, which is associated with the white flowers in their alternative name of ‘Candlemas Bells’.

Candlemas marked the end of Christmas celebrations and decoration (so don’t feel too bad if you didn’t get all of your decorations down before twelfth night!) but it is also associated with candles – candles are blessed, distributed and lit. They might be paraded around the church, or placed in a window (taking care, of course, to keep them away from curtains). All to celebrate the idea of Jesus as the light bringer – picking up on the declaration of Simeon that Jesus would be ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’. A suitable theme for this time of year as Candlemas falls at the time of the pagan festival of Imbolc which marks the beginning of Spring as the days begin to draw out. But I was reminded recently that there was a tradition for people to bring their own candles to church and take them home to be lit in times of anxiety – in a thunderstorm, when a family member was ill and so on – so it may be helpful to have a ‘Candlemas Candle’ at hand for the times in your own life when you need a little light in the dark. Find a suitable candle, and say this over it:

Lord of life, bless this candle
may the light it casts draw me closer to you.
In the dark and in the storm
Christ be my light.

In my journeys and my wanderings
Christ be my light.

In celebration and in sorrow
Christ be my light.

It is better to light a candle
than to curse the darkness.
May this candle call me
to shine with Christ’s light.

Then, when you feel you need to, light it and use it as a focus of your prayer. Reflect on the light it gives, and how Jesus brings light into our lives. Reflect on the warmth of the flame and become aware of the comfort of God’s presence around you. Remember that the darkness cannot overcome light.

And may Christ light your path in the days to come.

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