On Tuesday it will be Candlemas day. I think in years gone by it must have been a better known festival than it is today, I certainly remember having stories as a child that had Candlemas in the title though nothing I could find in a quick search on Amazon sounded quite right.
As a Christian festival it marks the presentation of Jesus at the temple, told in the gospel as the moment when an elderly Simeon, long promised that he would meet the Messiah before he dies, sees Jesus, recognises him, and burst forth with what, attributed to him in Ancient Greek, translated into Latin, then into English and then into English that would sound nice chorally, became the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace According to they word
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people
to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel
I sang this and Mary’s song, the Magnificat, every week throughout my university career in our college chapel choir and for all the twirly anthems and soaring descants over Christmas carols, it’s these two pieces of music that most bring back the smell of woodpolish, the feel of the panelling at your back, the way that with dusk the pictures in the windows would loose their brilliance for us as they became a beacon of colour to anyone outside, the feel of a choir knitting their voices together as the music pours through, and of course the lights. Reading lights so you could see the music outshone by candles as far as the eye could see, a memory for once not bathed just by the rosy glow of days past.
And it must have been that focus on light in Simeon’s words, an old man meeting a tiny new baby and seeing him as a new flame to go leaping on ahead of him, that made it the day to celebrate and bless all the lights to be used in the church for the forthcoming year, literally the candle mass.
I rather suspect that, as with a good few church traditions, a feast day or festival that fit the right sort of date was superimposed upon underlying folklore traditions and certainly it seems that everyone from the ancient celts onwards had some sort of festival of light at about this time. It makes sense too, we’re not yet into Spring, but we have reached the point where I get to see the dawn as I arrive at work (I get in about 8) and after the dark days of winter, particularly this winter just gone, it really does feel like the return of the sun.
Which brings me to our candles, and a craft I’ve been wanting to do with the girls for ages. We love candles in our family, we light them for every meal when we sing our blessing and most evenings we’ll have a little tea light flickering away in the salt lamp, so the girls were very excited prespect of making their own.
And it really is incredibly simple. So simple I was kicking myself for not trying it before. We started with two sheets of beeswax, a little packet of wick and a nice warm room. The latter is actually very helpful; sheets of beeswax become more flexible if the room is warm which helps get the first rolls nice and tight.
Kitty had no problem cutting our big sheets of wax into two and then lengths of the wick an inch or so longer than the wax, but Elma struggled a little. I think she may have found it easier going with children’s scissors but we couldn’t find ours and the kitchen scissors were a bit big for her hands.
We pressed the wick down into the very edge of the wax and just gently moulded the very edge up along side, and from there we rolled. A nice firm tight roll, going gently to give the wax the chance to adapt to the curves.
We found that keeping it all flat on the dinner table and pressing gently down as we rolled really helped, and while Elma and I did a bit of a joint effort, Kitty’s was all her own beautiful work.
A sheet and a half made three tall taper candles for our candlesticks and as we were having far too much fun to want to stop we cut up the last half sheet to make some mini candles; a really dinky little one for me, a short fat one for Elma and a tall skinny one for Kitty.
So that we could tell them apart we pulled out our modelling beeswax and added some little dots of colour, hence the hearts and the random spots, they just melt a bit and fall off when you burn the candles and the girls had so much fun making them.
I made them thinking of Candlemas, and maybe even thinking about saving them for Candlemas, but that was never going to wash. We made them on Saturday, and just about managed to wait for supper to light the big candles but the little ones, tucked into cored apples as impromptu candlesticks, lit up our lunch, soaking up every ray of honey glow and the gorgeous scent of summer that comes off them.
The perfect way to celebrate even slightly lighter mornings!