This ancient festival marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox.
Outline script for assembly leader
When did people take down their Christmas decorations? In many shops they had disappeared by Boxing Day when the sales started. Most families take them down on the 12th day of Christmas but, in olden times, Christmas lasted 40 days until February 2, which was called Candlemas.
People believed this day predicted the weather for the rest of the winter.
On Candlemas, they said, badgers wake from their winter sleep and look out of their sets (or burrows). If it is snowy, the badger decides winter is over and ends his hibernation. If the sun is shining, he knows there is more bad weather to come and goes back to sleep. In America the same story is told about the ground hog or woodchuck.
It is called Candlemas because on this day all the candles to be used in church during the coming year were brought into church and blessed.
In pre-Christian times, it was known as the "Feast of Lights" and celebrated the increasing strength of the life-giving sun as winter gave way to spring.
For Christians, the day also recalls the Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple. Forty days after the birth of a Jewish boy, it was the custom to take him to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented to God by his thankful parents. When, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple, they met an old man called Simeon. On seeing the baby Jesus, Simeon said he would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles (non-Jews) and the glory of the people of Israel".
This is why Christians sometimes say Jesus is "the light of the world" and another reason for lighting candles on this day.
Follow-up The account of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple can be found in Luke's Gospel, chapter 2.
Discuss when and why we light candles today on both happy and sad occasions.
Candlemas prayers for children:www.missiontogether.org.ukLiturgiesMT_Candlemas_2001Celtic and other Candlemas traditions are described at: www.twistedtree.org.ukcandlemas.htm