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Candlemas

This feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary was celebrated on February 2. In Jewish tradition, new mothers were not allowed to enter the temple until they had been purified by an offering forty days after the birth. As Mary entered the temple for her purification, the family was greeted by an old man, Simeon, whom God had promised would not die until he had seen the Lord. When he saw the baby Jesus, he took him from his mother's arms and held him up declaring that he could now die because that promise was fulfilled that day.

Candlemas was so-named because there would be a penitential procession with the people carrying candles through the church yard, past the graves and into into the church. The choir would sing the Nunc Dimittis - Now may I depart in peace O Lord - the words of Simeon on seeing the Incarnation of God. The candles would be decorated and kept throughout the year to be burned as protection against storms and sickness.

In some places is a tradition similar to ground-hog day attached to Candlemas. In this case, the animal involved is a bear who comes out of his cave. If he turns around and goes back to his cave, winter will continue.