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Hallo again to all.

Today is Candlemas. Most likely you knew that, but most likely you would have a hard time explaining to a friend just what that means. It's also Groundhog Day, and it's the Feast of the Presentation. And in the USA half of the country is watching a televised sports match for which adverts cost $100,000 per second.

The Feast of the Presentation celebrates Jesus' presentation in the temple. You know the story. Jesus was presented because that was Jewish law and custom: the firstborn son belonged to God, and the parents had to ritually buy him back with an appropriate sacrifice on the 40th day after his birth. Jesus' birth has a better-known celebration feast; other events in his life have even lesser-known feasts commemorating them, if anything.

This day is approximately halfway through winter (in the northern hemisphere) so it was a good time for prognostication and rituals about the arrival of spring*. Well before the era of the crusades, it was the custom to bring your family's candles to church at the Feast of the Presentation to have them blessed. After all, Christ, being the light of the world, was metaphorically a sort of candle. Gradually the day became known as Candlemas. Fast-forward a few centuries: we don't know of a parish anywhere that offers a Blessing of the Incandescent Bulbs at the Feast of the Presentation. Not surprising—who wants to remove light bulbs from fixtures to have them blessed? And LED bulbs are blessed at the factory, which is why they last forever without annual re-blessing. So the original purpose that named Candlemas is long gone.

Candlemas has suffered even more decay in the modern world. For many centuries, a family did not remove winter greenery from their house until Candlemas. In the bleak midwinter, filling your house with holly and ivy and bay and mistletoe made it feel less bleak. And then at some point you added a Christmas tree, traditionally on Christmas eve. Candlemas was the traditional time to take out the greens and take down the tree and get on with the business of being sour about endless winter.

Most people we know put up and decorate their Christmas trees in early Advent, and take them down on New Year's day. There's no need to take out the other greenery, because it's either made out of plastic or still alive, sustained with electric light**. But real traditionalists leave their Christmas trees in place until Candlemas. It's not easy to buy a Christmas tree on 24 December: most of the vendors have wrapped up and gone home to their families. To keep that tradition you have to buy a tree when they are available and store it until the 24th.

But at Candlemas there are no further excuses. If your tree is still there, it's time to take it down. Mold may have grown on the trunk; all of the needles have long since fallen to the floor and choked the hoover. The ornaments have hung so long they must be dusted or washed before being put back in the box. But you must. The celebration of Christmas is over, and almost all of your friends took down their trees a month ago.

See you next week.

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2 February 2014

*Groundhog day, for example. In most European midwinter celebrations you can tell whether the day is sunny or cloudy by looking up. In the USA in Victorian times they somehow needed to use burrowing rodents to discern sun from shade.

**We get a big grin from imagining the effort at keeping indoor plants alive in the winter with candle light. We've not come across any historical references to people trying it, but we're sure that somewhere, someone did. Another reason to bless the candles.

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