“Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable for, not the rightness, but the uprightness of the decision” - Thomas Jefferson
Today is Candlemas Day, or if in North America, you may know it as Groundhog Day. Forty days after the birth of her Son, the Virgin Mary went into the Temple of Jerusalem to ritually cleanse herself and present the infant to the rabbis. There, the elderly Simeon prophesied that Christ would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles.” Hence the association of this feast with the lighting of candles – hence “Candle Mass”. The image of the Virgin Mary was removed from its place in church and ritually cleaned. Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, were scattered in its place. The following couplet associates snowdrops with Candlemas:
The snowdrop, in purest white arraie
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.
Therefore, snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, is the birthday flower for this day. It symbolises purity, hope in sorrow and friendship in adversity. A legend concerning the origin of the bloom relates how when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, snow began to fall. They were dejected as they had lived in the perpetual spring of the garden before that. An angel took pity on them and changed a few of the drifting snowflakes into snowdrops, a promise that Spring would soon return. Galanthus is from the Greek and means “milk-white flower”, while nivalis means “of the snow” in Latin.
In ancient Rome, the Februalia Festival honoured Demeter who searched for her daughter Persephone after she had been abducted by Pluto, the god of the underworld. Priests of Ceres (the Roman Demeter) paraded in her temples with lit candles, recreating the goddess’s search day and night for her daughter. This festival was absorbed into the Christian tradition as the festival of Candlemas, the pagan Demeter becoming syncretised with the Virgin Mary.
In the USA, this day is celebrated as Groundhog Day, where these creatures help to predict the weather for the year ahead. It is an oracular tradition that is based on contraries similar to the British Candlemas oracular rhymes:
If Candlemas day be bright and clear
There’ll be two winters that year.
But if Candlemas be mild or bring it rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.
In a similar vein:
If Candlemas Day bring snow or rain
Winter is gone and won’t come again;
If Candlemas Day be clear and bright
Winter will have another flight.
On Candlemas Day, if the thorns hang a drop,
Then you are sure of a good pea crop.
Candlemas Day, plant beans in the clay
Put candles and candlesticks all away.
The last reference was to the increasing light in the afternoons and evening, which allowed indoor work to be done at that time without the aid of candlelight.