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Catholic Candlemas and Punxustawney Phil

Before your neighbors say a single word or throw a little shade . . . let me tell you: you don’t need to have those Christmas decorations down so soon. Well, you have until February 2. Just wish everyone “Happy Holidays and/or Holy Days.” And, if they’re still listening, explain that the celebration of our Lord’s birth doesn’t end on December 26, no matter how persistent some people are in dragging their trees to the curb on the second day of Christmas. (I’ve always wondered if these people spend Christmas night un-decorating their trees so that they can be out on the street when dawn breaks on the morning of the 26th. Such a sad sight.)

The Church gives us the slow Advent build up to Christmas, in spite of the surrounding cultural pressure. It also gives us a slow, steady time to taper off from all the trappings of the season, while never forgetting what we are celebrating.

As we know, there are twelve days of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany. (If you have included a house blessing on Epiphany, complete with chalk above your front door—e.g., 20+C+M+B+18—perhaps your neighbors are curious about your decoration customs. Or maybe they are afraid to ask.) Our time of celebration is legitimately prolonged until the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Feast of the Purification or Candlemas—and, for those of us weather-obsessed and winter-weary in the Northern Hemisphere, Groundhog Day.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the custom was for the mother of a male child to present him at the temple forty days after his birth, along with a lamb and a pigeon as a sacrifice. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary and Joseph were poor and could not afford a lamb, so Jesus was presented in the temple with two turtledoves for sacrifice. (Remember those two turtledoves that kept popping up in Muzak back in November?) It was at his presentation that the prophet Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms. At this moment he knew that the savior he had been waiting for had arrived and prayed his glorious Nunc dimittis.

Read more at Word on Fire. 

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