Here in the northern hemisphere, during the darkest, coldest time of the year, the Christian church celebrates three great festivals of light. Everyone knows the first festival; it is, of course, Christmas. Amid the noisy commercialism of the secular Christmas, Christians set aside a few hours of holy quiet, to contemplate that
The true light, which enlightens every person, is coming into the world. [John 1:9]
The second festival of light is Epiphany, the “facing outward”, when we celebrate the Light being shown to the gentiles. Kings from the East followed the light of a star and found in a manger the Light of the world.
The third and final festival of light is Candlemas, the culmination of the post-Christmas season. Forty days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took him to the Temple to present him to God; and then with the sacrifice of two small birds they redeemed their infant son and took him back into their home. So forty days after Christmas, on 2 February, we celebrate bringing the light of Christ into our own homes. Candlemas takes its name from the practice in great formal cathedrals where dozens or even hundreds of candles are burned in a year, of blessing all the candles for the coming year. But in ordinary homes since ancient times, people have celebrated by allowing all the light in their home to be extinguished — even the hearthfire and the kitchen stove — and bringing the new light of Christ home from the evening worship service. We’ve been celebrating this lovely candlelight service since 2017. This year, we’re collaborating on an online service featuring video of our brothers and sisters in Christ reading the lessons and prayers. Won’t you take part? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, or to volunteer.
Which brings us to the question, how did the groundhog get involved? Well, an ancient Scots weather-rhyme says “If Candlemas day be bright and clear/there’ll be two winters in the year.” So, on a bright clear Candlemas day, when the groundhog can see his shadow, we need to get ready for that second winter!