I'm so glad Philip gave me the book The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day by Meredith Gould. If not for this book, I probably wouldn't know about the feast day we're celebrating today.
Today is the Presentation of our Lord, aka Candlemas (formerly the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin). Candlemas is celebrated every year on February 2. February 2 is 40 days after Christmas. (Again, that number 40! Dr. Taylor Marshall gives a great bullet point summary of the number 40 and its appearances in the Bible in this blog post.)
Back to today's feast day: The Gospel of Luke recounts the presentation of Jesus in the Great Temple of Jerusalem. To fulfill mosaic law, Mary and Joseph bring the male baby Jesus to be presented at the temple and to offer a sacrifice 40 days after His birth. They encounter Simeon, an elderly man.
"...it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And inspired by the Holy Spirit he came into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 'Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:26-32).
The prophetess Anna also meets the Holy Family, gives thanks to God, and tells everyone she meets about Him, the "redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38).
In celebration of Jesus, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles," (Luke 2:32) Catholics bless and light candles on this day. All of the candles that a Catholic church will use in the upcoming year are blessed on February 2. Here is the prayer to be said by priests to bless the candles at Candlemas:
God our Father,
Source of all light,
today you revealed to Simeon
Your light of revelation to the nations.
Bless + these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them to praise your glory
walk in the path of goodness
and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil are great and all, but I never knew it was a rip-off of an older tradition.
According to this article on Candlemas,
Candlemas Day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. This practice led to the folklore behind "Groundhog's Day," which falls on Candlemas Day.
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.
If candles aren't your thing, adopt the European tradition of eating crepes or pancakes on Candlemas Day. Because they are yellow and round in shape like the sun, they are supposed to make us think of Christ, the "Light of Light." That's definitely a tradition I can get behind--especially if my grandma's buttermilk pancake recipe is involved. I'd take a stack of pancakes any day over a stinky groundhog!
So, happy Candlemas Day to you! Get some candles blessed, light them, thank Jesus for being our "Light of Light," and eat a stack of pancakes!