Traditionally, as Catholics, we celebrate Christmas from Christmas day,…meaning midnight, hence Midnight Mass…until February 2, Candlemas, The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
If you are around my age, your parents celebrated Christmas this way as an essential part of their lives. I remember my grandmother, every year around Thanksgiving being so saddened by all of the Christmas decorations up in the stores. She would tell us what it used to be like when she was younger. She would say something like the following, “Christmas decorations and things to buy for Christmas used to never be up or in the stores until the week of Christmas. That is until the war (World War II). When the war started there was an effort to bring it all out a little early so that families would have time to get gifts for the soldiers and get them mailed out in time for the men to receive the gifts by Christmas. Then the war ended and it never stopped, I guess the stores saw the bottom line and decided to keep on bringing them out earlier and earlier. It used to be such a joy to go to downtown Chicago the week of Christmas, now it’s just another common thing to see them.”
I’ll quote from my grandmothers missal from 1953, so we know this is not an ancient tradition of the days of old.
The Feast of Candlemas, which derives its origin from the local observance of Jerusalem, marks the end of the Feasts included in the Christmas cycle of the liturgy. It is perhaps, the most ancient festival of Our Lady. It commemorates, however, not only the obedience of The Blessed Virgin to the Mosaic Law in going to Jerusalem forty days after the birth of her Child and making the accustomed offerings, but also the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, and the meeting of the Infant Jesus with the old man Simeon-the Occursus Domini, as the Feast was anciently termed. This is the principal theme of the liturgy on this day: Jesus is taken to the Temple “to present Him to the Lord.” So the Lord comes to His Temple, and is met by the aged Simeon with joy and recognition.
The procession on this day is one of the most picturesque features of the Western liturgy. The blessing and distribution of candles, to be carried lighted in procession, precede the the Mass today-a symbolic presentation of the truth proclaimed in the Canticle of Simeon: Our Lord is the “Light for the revelation of the Gentiles.” The anthems sung during this procession, eastern in origin, well express the joy and gladness of this happy festival, and the honor and praise we give to our Blessed Lady and her Divine Son by this devout observance.”
This blessing of the candles is only done once a year. It is a very special blessing. The priest will pray five prayers over the candles, he will sprinkle them three times with holy water while singing the Asperges me and also incenses them tree times!
As we prepare for the ending of the Christmas season, we prepare for this wonderful Feast. This year I went all out and purchased, maybe, way too many, 100% beeswax candles to be blessed. Part of the first prayer of the blessing reads “Oh Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, who hast created all things out of nothing and by Thy command hast caused this liquid to become perfect wax by the labor of bees.”
One tradition we have incorporated, into this changing of the liturgical seasons around our home, is to gather together and say a prayer before we take down our Christmas decorations. I do not remember where I found the prayer or I would give them credit. Feel free to download it and print it for your own use next Christmas season or this if you have not taken down your decorations yet.
(click the image to load the FULL version for printing on 8.5″ x 11″)
If you are like me and have a hard time remembering to incorporate things like this into your day to day routines, you can print the prayer and tape it to the inside (or outside) of the box you store your Christmas decorations in. That way when you go to get them out to pack everything away it’ll be right there. You’ll also see the prayer when you go to put your decorations up and have another reminder.
Luke 2:29-32 “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace. Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of the people of Israel.”