[On Candlemas] we keep the feast of Mary,
mother of the King, because she on that day
brought Christ, the Ruler’s child, to the temple.
Then after five nights winter is
carried out of the dwellings.
— The Menologium (English, 10th century) 
The first day of February is Candlemas Eve, and the second is Candlemas Day. As the fortieth day after the Nativity, Candlemas marks the final event in the Infancy narratives, when, in accordance with Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus to be blessed in the Jerusalem temple. You can find a reflection on that gospel story in my 2019 post, “Consumed by Love: The Flames of Candlemas.”
In medieval Europe, people would bring a candle to the church to be blessed on Candlemas. Then they would make a communal candlelight procession in honor of the Christ, whom Simeon, in the Presentation narrative, called “a light to enlighten the nations” (Luke 2:32). A Candlemas prayer beseeches the Light of the world “to pour into the hearts of your faithful people the brilliance of your eternal splendor, that we, who by these kindling flames light up this temple to your glory, may have the darkness of our souls dispelled.”
In the northern hemisphere, this celebration of light coincides with the lengthening of days. We’ve all begun to rejoice that the days are starting a little earlier, lasting a little longer. Sceptics who dismiss Christian festivals as hostile takeovers of pagan celebrations miss the point. The truth of the Incarnate Logos as the deep structure of creation does not compete with the patterns and rhythms of nature; it completes them. In Old English, sunne(“sun”) and sunu (“son”) are nearly identical, allowing a perfect theological pun: Christ is both sodfaesta sunnan leoma (“radiance of the true sun”) and sunu soþan fæder (“Son of the true Father”).
An early Anglo-Saxon poem on the winter solstice, beautifully translated by medieval scholar Eleanor Parker, celebrates the return of the light as Christological:
As you, God born of God long ago,
Son of the true Father, eternally existed
without beginning in the glory of heaven,
so your own creation cries with confidence
to you now for their needs, that you send
that bright sun to us, and come yourself
to lighten those who long have lived
surrounded by shadows and darkness, here
in everlasting night, who, shrouded by sins,
have had to endure death’s dark shadow. 
Winter’s cold and dark are not quickly undone. Poised midway between winter solstice and vernal equinox, Candlemas is a transitional feast—the last of winter, the first of spring. It will take time for spring to come: now still contends with not yet. “How long the winter has lasted,” lamented New England poet Jane Kenyon, “—like a Mahler / symphony, or an hour in the dentist’s chair.” My friends in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska echo this seasonal weariness in their Facebook posts. But for those who are faithful and alert, Candlemas marks the turning point, reawakening the hope that spring is on its way.
Long-term weather forecasts in early February have been going on for centuries, but they always hedge their bets. A sunny Candlemas is but a brief glimpse of future glory, more of a promise than a gift in hand. If the groundhog or the bear emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, back it goes into hibernation, for spring is still six weeks away. Hope’s object will not be rushed, as traditional wisdom reminds us:
If Candlemas Day is fair and clear,
There’ll be two winters in one year. (Scotland)
If Candlemas Day be sunny and warm,
Ye may mend yer auld mittens and look for a storm. (Cumbria)
In other words, as T. S. Eliot put it, “wait without hope / For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” But for Ukrainians shivering in the shadow of war; for the homeless huddled in our frigid cities; for the abused and the outcast suffering storms of violence; for African-Americans terrorized by a nation that walks in darkness—Spring can never come soon enough.
Let us keep the feast:
Light a candle;
Trust the radiance;
Become the Spring.
 The Menologium, translated from Old English by Eleanor Parker in her fascinating and poetic book, Winters in the World: A Journey Through the Anglo-Saxon Year (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2022), 88-89. The “five nights” refers to the Anglo-Saxon reckoning of February 6 as the last day of winter before it is “carried out” to make room for spring.
 Ibid., 71-72.
 Jane Kenyon, “Walking Alone in Late Winter,” in Collected Poems (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2005), 77. Personally, I will take Mahler over the dentist every time.
 Charles Kightly, The Customs and Ceremonies of Britain: An Encyclopedia of Living Traditions (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), 66.
 T.S. Eliot, “East Coker, III” in Four Quartets (1943). The poet goes on to say, “Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought: / So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” Until it fully arrives, God’s future exceeds adequate description and cannot be grasped. The reader will note that this essay’s title is a positive reversal of the opening line of Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.”
Very thoughtful, Jim, and I appreciate the inclusion of the lines at the end from TS Elliot. They are a perfect summary.
Beautiful commentary for our impatient world. Thank you.
Winter as an hour in a dentist’s chair… Such an apt descriptor, as are the candles’ flickers as harbingers of spring. So good to read this meditation.