“There are two ways of spreading light:
to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
— Edith Wharton
I discovered the celebration of Candlemas three years ago while doing research for my first book, and fell instantly in-love with this quiet mid-winter celebration of hope and light, that marks the presentation of Christ, barely over a month old, at the temple. Early February is generally the time of year when everyone begins to grow weary of winter’s persistent darkness, biting winds and cold toes, and the longing for Spring’s sunny disposition begins in earnest. Candlemas comes to us with its warmth and light in this moment, shush-ing our anxious minds like a doting grandmother, calling us into the moment, the future safe and secure in tomorrow’s care.
This year our family will hold our second annual Candlemas gathering on February 1, the eve of Candlemas. Instead of throwing a barn-buster of a party, we will keep this little gathering, smaller, more intimate, in keeping with my winter hibernating tendencies, and invite just a few families to join us. I will scour the cabinets and the closets for every non-scented candle I can find, and then line every flat surface in our house with their light.
While I work indoors, my husband Nathan and our boys will build a small bonfire in the backyard. They will also prepare the empty coffee cans I have been stockpiling for months, but hammering holes in the sides, and placing one jelly jar with a votive candle in each can. Later in the evening each child will have a chance to decorate their own coffee-can lantern, as part of the celebration.
Back inside I will make a chocolate ganache filled crepe cake, inspired by the French tradition of La Chandeleur while all the guests arrive, and heat up the amazing handmade tamales I have purchased from a local Mexican food market in honor of the Mexican tradition of Dia de la Candaleria. Each guest will bring a favorite side-dish or appetizer to add to the meal, and we will fill our plates heaping full with the rich, warm flavors of cultures all over the world.
Eventually we will all make our way outside, to the backyard, where we will circle around the fire for a moment of storytelling, reflection and prayer. I will read the Collect for Candlemas from an old Common Book of Prayer and we pass the light from candle to candle, friend to friend. We will then tell the kids the story of Jesus’ presentation at the temple, explaining it in terms of “a baby dedication” for the evangelical kiddos and a “baby baptism” for the liturgicals. We will speak earnestly of Simeon’s and Anna’s words to Mary and Joseph, about how Christ was born to be a “God revealing light” (Luke 2:32-42, The Message.) We will stare into the light of our little candles, and the embers of the fire, and contemplate how bright yet how quiet a single flame is. How, no words or sounds are needed in order for it to shine, illuminate and guide. And I will wonder, as I do each year, how I can live my life a little more quiet, and little bit brighter, casting the glow of Christ love, mercy, hope and joy instead of the shadows of my own self-absorbed complaints and ungratefulness.
We may or may not finish our little fireside observance by singing a motley verse of This Little Light of Mine, but I am sure that we will eat up the Crepe Cake, perhaps even have a few more tamales, and that we will tell many more stories, share more laughter and more memories- both new and old–until the fire dies down, all the light and warmth having been transferred to us, inside and out.
Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, nest-fluffer, urban farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together (which includes a chapter on Candlemas, complete with crafts and recipes.) Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons in a 1940s cottage in Central Arkansas at the crossroads of beauty and mess with an ever-changing rotation of pets, including a hen house full of chickens and a Hungarian Sheep Dog mutt. As a family, they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. She blogs about all of this and more at http://jerusalemgreer.com