What makes February 2nd an important date? Many of us would answer it is Groundhog Day, but there is more to it than that. In fact, Groundhog Day grew out of a much older Christian celebration known as “Candlemas” which falls on The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – February 2nd! In this lesson we will learn about this ancient Catholic tradition, the importance of candles in our churches and homes, and about Jesus’ identity as the light of the world.
Introduction and Opening Prayer
Note: Parents of young children, especially those with children still learning to read, are welcome to summarize and adapt lesson texts rather than reading them verbatim. Feel free to creatively adapt, supplement, and/or omit certain lesson materials to better meet your children’s educational level.
Christmas to Candlemas
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord takes places exactly 40 days after Christmas. It celebrates Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus to God the Father in the Temple 40 days after he was born. According to Jewish law, 40 days was the amount of time a woman needed to wait after giving birth before she could return to the Temple to pray.
As we have learned, this feast also goes by the name Candlemas. Candles came to be associated with this feast because of something that happened when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple. Watch the movie clip below and see if you can guess what it was. I’ll give you a hint, pay close attention to a prayer one of the characters says!
After watching the story of the presentation, can you guess how candles are involved? Remember, your hint was that it’s related to something said.
If you guessed it was because Simeon’s prayer, give yourself a pat on the back! The Bible tells us Simeon was a holy man to whom the Lord revealed that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he knew God’s promise had been fulfilled. He was so happy he said the following prayer of praise to God:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
This idea of Jesus being a light to the nations is where candles come in. Candlemas is a very old tradition of the Church. For years, it was common practice for there to be candlelit processions in honor of the feast day. A Catechism (a book that contains the Church’s teachings) written for children in 1583 had this to say about why we carry candles on Candlemas day:
“Therefore on Candlemas day, by carrying a holy candle, we do well represent our Lady carrying Christ to the Temple in her arms.”
1.) If you were in the Temple when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus and you overheard Simeon, what would you have thought?
2.) What do you think Mary and Joseph felt listening to Simeon talk about their son?
3.) How does it make you feel to learn that the tradition of Candlemas goes back hundreds and hundreds of years?
How do we celebrate Candlemas today?
One of the most important parts of the celebration of Candlemas is the blessing of candles. In many parishes, the priest will bless all the candles the Church will use for the upcoming year as well as any candles that people bring to have blessed for their homes.
This year, St. Mary Magdalen will be doing a blessing of candles on Candlemas at the 9AM Mass on Tuesday, February 2nd. However Fr. Shaun is happy to bless candles on other days as well! A blessed candle would be a great addition to your family’s prayer space. When something is blessed, that means it is set aside for a holy purpose and to help remind us of God. Our home prayer space is a place where we receive blessings from God. That means we are also set aside for a holy purpose – to bring Jesus to the world!
Catholic Trivia: Did you know that candles used in Church are supposed to be at least 51% beeswax?
The Church has always seen bees as a symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity. The wax that they produce symbolizes Jesus’ humanity, the wick inside symbolizes Christ’s soul, and the flame represents his divinity.
Read more: https://liturgyguy.com/tag/beeswax-candles/
One of the best things about being Catholic is the number of traditions we have throughout the year. There is always something to remember or celebrate! All around the world there are many different Candlemas traditions. Choose one or two from the list below for your family to try! Whichever you pick, make sure to share a picture in the comments.
France: Here, Candlemas is known as La Chandeleur and it is celebrated by making crepes. The crepe represents the sun slowly returning after a dark winter as spring approaches. There is a tradition that if you hold a coin in your writing hand and use the other to flip the crepe with the pan, you will have a wish come true if you are successful. Here is an easy crepe recipe that you can customize with whatever toppings or fillings you want!
Mexico: Here, el Día de la Candelaria is celebrated by making tamales, and bringing a statue of the child Jesus to Mass, just as Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple. Learn more about this tradition: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2019/02/01/what-candlemas-and-who-making-tamales-year
Puerto Rico: Candlemas is celebrated here with bonfires and singing. Your family could try bundling up for a winter bonfire and sing your favorite hymns.
Read more about Puerto Rico’s tradition here.
This lesson’s featured saint is St. Brigid, the patroness of Ireland. While much of her life is shrouded in mystery because she lived 1500 years ago, we know that she was an important figure in the conversion of Ireland to Catholicism. Devotion to her has remained an important part of Irish culture. Her feast day is on February 1st, one day before Candlemas.
Making a St. Brigid Cross is a traditional way to celebrate her feast day. Learn how below:
Let Us Pray
In this lesson we learned about the prayer that Simeon prayed when he saw Jesus in the temple. That prayer is actually an important part of Night Prayer from something known as the Liturgy of the Hours.
The Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer that all Catholic priests and religious have to pray every day, but that lay people are welcome to as well. It consists of 5 “hours” of prayer (they don’t take that long) spaced throughout the day. It is made up mostly of psalms from the Bible. Psalms are songs and poems written as prayers to God by the Jewish people.
The 5 hours in order are the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. You may know them by their traditional latin names: Matins, Lauds, the daytime hours (prime, terce, sext, none), Vespers, and Compline.
Every day during Night Prayer (Compline), we pray Simeon’s prayer known as the Canticle of Simeon or the Nunc Dimittis (latin for the first line “now let your servant depart in peace.”)
This week, try praying part of this traditional prayer. It can be hard to learn the entire thing so don’t feel pressured to do it all. Even if you just prayed Simeon’s prayer every day before bed it would be a great start! Below you can find the music for how to sing it, or the text if you prefer to read it.
Mr. Kenny and his roommate Ted were both seminarians (people studying to be priests) and had to pray Night Prayer as part of their formation. We recorded ourselves singing it so you could see an example of how it is traditionally done. If you want, you can watch the video and pray along with us.
Watch the following video to learn how to sing night prayer or pray along with us.
Live It Out Activities
In your Destined Journals, draw a picture of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple. At the bottom, write the phrase “A light to reveal you to the nations…”
Try your hand at making candles using the following options as your guide.
If making Candles is not your thing, try decorating them! All you need are markers and some extra candles, have fun and be creative!
Make sure to share pictures of anything you produce as part of this lesson. If you have ideas for ways other families can celebrate Candlemas, feel free to share them in the comments!
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