Gerald Haigh explains the traditions of Candlemas and Groundhog day
February 2 is Candlemas - 40 days after Christmas. This celebrates Christ's first visit to the Temple, but it has a wider significance as the middle of winter - the day on which we begin to let ourselves look forward to spring.
A Candlemas tradition is that if it's bright and sunny on the day, winter weather will return, but if it's cloudy and dull, then spring weather will soon come. It's this belief that underlies the American tradition of Groundhog day (also February 2).
The aim of this assembly is to help children understand the value of hope, of reaching a point where it's possible to look forward to something better.
Jack's mum stopped the baby buggy and turned round.
"Hurry up, Jack! We're going to be late!" she called. "Keep up!"
Because Jack's mum had to be at work by half-past eight, she had to get both Baby Leonie and Jack ready by half-past seven. Then they had to walk Leonie to the childminder's house and carry on to take Jack to breakfast club at his school. It was a rush for his mum, though, and Jack knew that it had been hard for her during the winter, when the mornings were dark and cold and rainy. Soon, though, she'd be starting a new job and she wouldn't have to start till nine. That would make things easier.
His mum pushed the buggy really quickly, and Jack trotted along beside her with one hand on the handle.
"Soon be starting your new job, Mum!" said Jack. "You won't have to get up so early."
"Don't I know it!" said Mum. "And I'll get a bit more money. It'll be better for all of us."
Just then they turned the corner into the street where the childminder lived and suddenly they were dazzled. The rising sun was low in the sky, between the houses at the end of the street. It was a bright morning, with no clouds, and the sun was right in their faces. Leonie gave a little cry and screwed up her face. They all stopped, and Jack stood in front of the buggy to shield Leonie from the sun.
"First time we've seen the sun just there this year," said Jack.
"No more dark mornings," said Mum. "The sun's a little higher in the sky and spring is on its way. Things are looking brighter."
"What with the sun, and your new job, it makes us all a bit more cheerful doesn't it, Mum?" said Jack.
"It does that," said Mum. And she bent down to Leonie to make sure she was in the shade. "We'll be OK, Leonie, won't we?" she said. Leonie looked at her and laughed. And Mum took hold of the buggy and walked quickly on, with Jack trotting alongside. "Not so fast, Mum!" said Jack. "What have you had for breakfast?"
It had been a hard winter for Jack and his mum. But the morning sunlight on that day gave the family a lift. Perhaps spring would not be far off now.
And the prospect of a new and better job seemed to combine with the sunlight to make everything seem better than before. Jack's mum could face the future with new energy and a feeling of hope.
As January fades away and February comes, we start to think about spring and the rebirth of nature after the long winter rest. It's a time of hope and looking forward.
What do you hope for in the coming year? For your family, and for yourself? Take a few moments to see the good things that brighter days might bring.
Lord, we thank you for the gift of your son Jesus, brought into the world on Christmas Day and presented to the world in the early spring. Give us the courage to hope for a good future for our families and friends.
A note on Candlemas
It was traditionally when churches bought new candles, and it commemorates the presentation of the young Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2).
This is a tradition in the United States. Some people believe the groundhog comes out of hibernation on this day. If he can see his shadow (because the sun is shining) the winter will return for six more weeks. If he can't, because it's cloudy, then spring will come.
The most famous weather forecasting groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil. Read more, and find good links, on www.punxsutawneyphil.com
An old traditional rhyme explains all: If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.