February 2, 2022- Long before the Groundhog was deemed a prognosticator, the world turned to blessings with candles, to get a sense of when the North could expect to see buds and feel the promise of new life. Today’s date was the time for having one’s throat blessed by two candles, crossed at the median point of the throat. The idea was to ward off respiratory ailments, and like many practices of Christianity, arose from a mix of commemorating reported events in the life of Jesus the Christ and the faithful’s understanding of Roman or indigenous northern European practices. Candlemas happens to fall forty days after the western date for Christmas and roughly thirty-thirty five days before the Lenten Season, which itself commemorates the forty days spent by Christ in the wilderness of Judea-thus representing a midpoint of sorts.
Candles more commonly provided a way to light the night, especially inside a dwelling or place of business, where the use of torches would have been more dicey. Even in the age of electric or solar-powered lighting, candles are important to have on hand, in the event of a power outage or in case flashlights turn out to have expired batteries. Candles also help us in celebrations, such as birthday parties, and in vigils for fallen community members.
Animal tallow, once the most common material from which candles could have been made, competes with oil-based paraffin as a source for candle-making. As with all things petrolean, there is a lot of controversy as to whether those who use candles are somehow contributing, collectively, to climate change. I prefer to use candles made from essential oils, and these are only lit sparingly.
To me, candles are simply an important symbol of hope and of resilience.