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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

HEDGEHOG DAY! The customs and traditions of Candlemas

Today, Candlemas has long been held in the Christian calendar as ‘The Feast of Our Lady,

The Blessed Virgin Mary’ otherwise known as ‘Candelora’ or ‘Candlemas’. It derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely the blessing of candles by the clergy and their distribution to mothers who had borne children during the previous year, after which they process around the church in solemn procession.

The ceremony commemorates when the Virgin Mary, in obedience to Jewish law, went to the Temple of Jerusalem, both to be purified and to present the ‘Christ Child’, ‘The Light of the World’ to God as her firstborn.

However, the word ‘Purification’ carries in its original meaning the idea of cleansing by fire,rather than Jesus Christ being the Spiritual Light and therefore, the origins of Candlemas predate Christianity and lie in the pagan Roman festival of ‘Februalia’, and the ancient Celtic festival of ‘Imbolc’.

Imbolc, meaning ‘ewes milk’ was the Celtic festival held on the 1st February and heralded the start of the lambing season. Ancient people saw it as a time of hope and new beginnings.
They believed the young goddess ‘Bride’ of youth and fertility, who was held captive each year by winter, was released or re-born at Imbolc. Huge fires were lit in celebration to summon the return of light and new birth, which followed in Bride’s footsteps.

Dorset Candlemas

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Candlemas in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
Evidently so called from the candles or lights which were distributed and carried about in older times upon that day William Hone in his Every-Day Book, vol. i, p. 107 (1826), gives the foloowing from a Dorset source.  He speaks of a gentleman having communicated a custom which he had witnessed at lyme regis in his juvenile days. To what extent it prevailed he was unable to say, his knowledge being limited to the domestic circle wherein he was included. He says :—

" The wood-ashes of the family being sold throughout the year as they were made, the person who purchased them annually sent a present on Candlemas-day of a large candle. When night came the candle was lighted, and, assisted by its illumination, the inmates regaled themselves with cheering draughts of ale and sippings of punch, or some other animating beverage, until the candle had burnt out. The coming of the Candlemas candle was looked forward to by the young ones as an event of some consequence ; for, of usage, they had a sort of right to sit up that night and partake of the refreshment till all retired to rest, the signal for which was the self-extinction of the Candlemas candle."

Candlemas Day
or Eve was the great occasion in Dorsetshire, as in other counties, when all Christmas decorations, such as holly, mistletoe, and evergreens, should be taken down in accordance with Herrick's well-known lines :—
"Down with the rosemary and bays, Down with the mistletoe," etc.

But care should be taken that they are not thrown away as ordinary rubbish, but should be entirely destroyed in the fire. If otherwise, it portends death or misfortune to some one of the household before another year is out. (conf. Shropshire Folk-Lore, p.245.)

In Dorsetshire, apparently, Candlemas Day is mostly known to the rustic public as affording portents or omens of what the weather is likely to be for the rest of the winter, as shown by what it is on Candlemas Day.  If Candlemas Day is a fine day, winter is to come ; if it's a middling day, winter is half over ; it it's a very rough day, winter is past.

Another and rhythmical form of this belief was sent to me years ago, together with several other interesting items of Dorset folk-lore, by the late Rev. W. K. Kendall, of East Lulworth, himself an early member of the Dorset Field Club.

"If Candlemas Day be fair and fine,
Half the winter is left behin'.
If Candlemas Day do bluster and blow,
The winter is o'er, as all good people do know."

Yet another instance of mild weather at Candlemas being taken as a harbinger of something more severe later on is furnished by the old saying that " as much ground as the sun shines on on Candlemas Day will be covered with snow before Lady Day ".

The late Mr. Hugh Norris, of South Petherton, for many years Somerset editor of The Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (vol. i, pp. 160-2), gives a list of some West Country weather proverbs, from which I extract his version of the above saying, clothed in a rich vernacular — perhaps a little more

Somerset than Dorset—" Za much groun' as ez cove'd wi'zun pon Cannelmas Day '11 be cove'd wi' znaw avore Laady Day."

In the following instance relating to Candlemas, furnished to Notes and Queries in 1872 (Ser. IV, x, 82) by F. C. H. (the well known Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority, the late Dr. F. C. Husenbeth), attention is called to the alteration in these old dates — a fact, I am afraid, generally ignored — caused by the introduction of the New Style. He says:

" In Dorsetshire people anxiously look for the dew-drops hanging thickly on the thorn-bushes on Candlemas morning. When they do, it forebodes a good year for peas. But these weatherwise seers are apt to forget that all these old saws were adapted to the Old Style, according to which what used to be Candlemas is now St. Valentine. N'importe, the weather prophet coolly moves on his peg and goes on predicting with equal confidence."
Hedgehog Day?

American Groundhog
The 1993 hit comedy film Groundhog Day took its title from an old American custom, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If the groundhog sees its shadow because the weather is bright and clear, it will be frightened and run back into its hole, and the winter will continue for six more weeks. The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania; crowds of around 20,000 to 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday.

The earliest known American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania. The reference was made on February 4th 1861 in Morgantown, Berks County, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris’ diary:

“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day is cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

In the United States the tradition derives from a Scottish poem:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again

A farmer should on Candlemas day

Have half his corn and half his hay

On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop

You can be sure of a good pea crop

This is however not a British custom, due to the shortage of groundhogs, but in some parts of the county there is a very similar superstition involving the common hedgehogs, the saying goes:

'if a hedgehog casts a shadow at noon, winter will return'

In Scotland the hedgehog has long been revered for its healing powers. Around the fifth century, the European Celts believed that animals had certain supernatural powers on special days that were half-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.


Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days Bebruary 2nd 1864, details the traditions of Candlemas

From a very early, indeed unknown date in the Christian history, the 2nd of February has been held as the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, and it is still a holiday of the Church of England. From the coincidence of the time with that of the Februation or purification of the people in pagan Rome, some consider this as a Christian festival engrafted upon a heathen one, in order to take advantage of the established habits of the people; but the idea is at least open to a good deal of doubt. The popular name Candlemass is derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely, a blessing of candles by the clergy, and a distribution of them amongst the people, by whom they are afterwards carried lighted in solemn procession. The more important observances were of course given up in England at the Reformation; but it was still, about the close of the eighteenth century, customary in some places to light up churches with candles on this day.

At Rome, the Pope every year officiates at this festival in the beautiful chapel of the Quirinal. When he has blessed the candles, he distributes them with his own hand amongst those in the church, each of whom, going singly up to him, kneels to receive it. The cardinals go first; then follow the bishops, canons, priors, abbots, priests, &c., down to the sacristans and meanest officers of the church. According to Lady Morgan, who witnessed the ceremony in 1820:

'When the last of these has gotten his candle, the poor conservatori, the representatives of the Roman senate and people, receive theirs. This ceremony over, the candles are lighted, the Pope is mounted in his chair and carried in procession, with hymns chanting, round the ante-chapel; the throne is stripped of its splendid hangings; the Pope and cardinals take off their gold and crimson dresses, put on their usual robes, and the usual mass of the morning is sung.'

Lady Morgan mentions that similar ceremonies take place in all the parish churches of Rome on this day.

It appears that in England, in Catholic times, a meaning was attached to the size of the candles, and the manner in which they burned during the procession; that, moreover, the reserved parts of the candles were deemed to possess a strong supernatural virtue:

'This done, each man his candle lights,
Where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen;
And fortunate to be,
Whose candle burneth clear and bright:
A wondrous force and might
Both in these candles lie, which if
At any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm
Nor tempest cloth abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard,
Nor any devil's spide,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night,
Nor hurts of frost or hail,' &c.

The festival, at whatever date it took its rise, has been designed to commemorate the churching or purification of Mary; and the candle-bearing is understood to refer to what Simeon said when he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and declared that he was a light to lighten the Gentiles. Thus literally to adopt and build upon metaphorical expressions, was a characteristic procedure of the middle ages. Apparently, in consequence of the celebration of Mary's purification by candle-bearing, it became customary for women to carry candles with them, when, after recovery from child-birth, they went to be, as it was called, churched. A remarkable allusion to this custom occurs in English history. William the Conqueror, become, in his elder days, fat and unwieldy, was confined a considerable time by a sickness. 'Methinks,' said his enemy the King of France, 'the Ring of England lies long in childbed.' This being reported to William, he said, 'When I am churched, there shall be a thousand lights in France I' And he was as good as his word; for, as soon as he recovered, he made an inroad into the French territory, which he wasted wherever he went with fire and sword.

At the Reformation, the ceremonials of Candlemass day were not reduced all at once. Henry VIII proclaimed in 1539:

'On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is clone in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in. the church that day.'

It is curious to find it noticed as a custom down to the time of Charles II, that when lights were brought in at nightfall, people would say—' God send us the light of heaven!' The amiable Herbert, who notices the custom, defends it as not superstitious. Some-what before this time, we find. Herrick alluding to the customs of Candlemass eve: it appears that the plants put up in houses at Christmas were now removed.

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise
The greener box for show.

The holly hitherto did sway,
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day
Or Easter's eve appear.

The youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin',
To honour Whitsuntide.

Greeu rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift; each thing in turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.'

The same poet elsewhere recommends very particular care in the thorough removal of the
Christmas garnishings on this eve:

That so the superstitious find
No one least branch left there behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.'

He also alludes to the reservation of part of the candles or torches, as calculated. to have the effect of protecting from mischief:

'Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn,
Which quenched, then lay it up again,
Till Christmas next return.

Part mast be kept, wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year;
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.'

There is a curious custom of old standing in Scotland, in connection with Candlemass day. On that day it is, or lately was, an universal practice in that part of the island, for the children attending school to make small presents of money to their teachers. The master sits at his desk or table, exchanging for the moment his usual authoritative look for one of bland civility, and each child goes up in turn and lays his offering down before him, the sum being generally pro-portioned to the abilities of the parents. Six-pence and a shilling are the most common sums in most schools; but some give half and whole crowns, and even more. The boy and girl who give most are respectively styled King and Queen. The children, being then dismissed for a holiday, proceed along the streets in a confused procession, carrying the King and Queen in state, exalted upon that seat formed of crossed hands which, probably from this circumstance, is called the King's Chair. In some schools, it used to be customary for the teacher, on the conclusion of the offerings, to make a bowl of punch and regale each urchin with a glass to drink the King and Queen's health, and a biscuit. The latter part of the day was usually devoted to what was called the Candlemass bleeze, or blaze, namely, the conflagration of any piece of furze which might exist in their neighbourhood, or, were that wanting, of an artificial bonfire.

Another old popular custom in Scotland on Candlemass day was to hold a football match, the east end of a town against the west, the unmarried men against the married, or one parish against another. The 'Candlemass Ba', as it was called, brought the whole community out in a state of high excitement. On one occasion, not long ago, when the sport took place in Jedburgh, the contending parties, after a struggle of two hours in the streets, transferred the contention to the bed of the river Jed, and there fought it out amidst a scene of fearful splash and dabblement, to the infinite amusement of a multitude looking on from the bridge.

Considering the importance attached to Candlemass day for so many ages, it is scarcely surprising that there is a universal superstition throughout Christendom, that good weather on this day indicates a long continuance of winter and a bad crop, and that its being foul is, on the contrary, a good omen. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, quotes a Latin distich expressive of this idea:

 'Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
Major erit glacies post festum quam fait ante;

which maybe considered as well translated in the popular Scottish rhyme:

If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
The half o' winter's gave at Yule.'

In Germany there are two proverbial expressions on this subject: 1. The shepherd would rather see the wolf cuter his stable on Candlemass day than the sun; 2. The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemass day, and when he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining, he draws back into his hole. It is not improbable that these notions, like the festival of Candlemass itself, are derived from pagan times, and have existed since the very infancy of our race. So at least we may conjecture, from a curious passage in Martin's Description of the Western Islands. On Candlemass day, according to this author, the Hebrideans observe the following curious custom:

 The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women's apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Brύd's Bed.; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, "Brύd is come; Brύd is welcome!" This they do just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Brad's club there; which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen.

 The Purification Flower

 Our ancestors connected certain plants with certain saints, on account of their coming into blossom about the time of the occurrence of those saints' days. Thus the snowdrop was called the Purification Flower (also the Fair Maid of February), from its blossoming about Candlemass; the crocus was dedicated to St. Valentine; the daisy to St. Margaret (hence called by the French La belle Marguerite); the Crown Imperial to St. Edward, king of the West Saxons, whose day is the 18th of March; the Cardamine, or Lady's Smock, to the Virgin, its white flowers appearing about Lady-day. The St. John's Wort was connected, as its name expresses, with the blessed St. John. The roses of summer were said to fade about St. Mary Magdalen's Day. There were also the Lent Lily or Daffodil, the Pasque-flower or Anemone, Herb Trinity, Herb Christopher, St Barnaby's Thistle, Canterbury Bell (in honour of St. Augustine of England), Huh St. Robert, and Mary Wort.

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