So Christmas has been over since January 5th, when do I take down my Christmas manger scene? Traditionally, you leave your Christmas manger scene up until Candlemas on February 2nd. No, it’s not just Groundhog Day!
Why Candlemas? And what is Candlemas? Candlemas is a significant feast day within the Christian Church and is observed primarily by the liturgical churches:
Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Candlemas is February 2nd and is 33 days after the Circumcision of Jesus on January 1st. In accordance with the law in Leviticus 12, the baby boy is presented in the Temple and an offering is made for the purification of the mother. Leviticus 12 requires a lamb, but, if the family cannot afford a lamb, then two turtledoves or two pigeons are sacrificed. After Mary and Joseph made this offering at the Temple, they met Simeon, who had been told that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon, guided by the Holy Spirit, found Mary and Joseph in the Temple and took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
So What is Candlemas?
February 2nd coincided with the pre-Christian pagan Festival of Lights which marks the halfway point of winter. The days are getting longer and the light (summer) of the sun will win over the darkness (winter). This is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the Vernal Equinox.
So about the candles. They lit everything up when it was dark. There was no electricity. But candles and flames have always been symbolic.
The Romans had a tradition of lighting candles during the winter to scare off evil spirits. In Christian Churches, candles are also symbolic of Christ as the Light of the World. The Christian Church liked to appropriate local pagan customs so that newly converted pagans would still have something similar, but Christianized, to observe. The Festival of Lights became the observance when all the Churches candles were brought to the Mass to be blessed for the coming year. The Candle Mass became called Candlemas.
Other Candlemas Traditions
Of course, Candlemas is also Groundhog Day in the United States. Punxsutawny Phil, the groundhog, emerges from his den. If the weather is clear and he sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. This is a superstition of the Pennsylvania Dutch (Germans) who brought the tradition over to the United States from Germany.
There are other weather proverbs surrounding Candlemas Day:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings clouds and rain, Winter won’t come again.”
“If Candlemas Day be dry and fair, The half o’ the winter’s to come and mair [more]; If Candlemas Day be wet and foul, The half o’ the winter’s gane [gone] at Yule.”
The German proverb expresses it thus, “The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day, and, if he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.”
There is a farmer’s proverb also, “A farmer should, on Candlemas Day, Have half his corn and half his hay.” and also, “On Candlemas Day if the thorns hang adrop, You can be sure of a good pea crop.”
St Brigid’s Day
There is also St Brigid’s Day which is celebrated particularly in Ireland as the Gaelic seasonal festival of Imbolc. This festival symbolized the beginning of spring since prehistoric times, and celebrates hearth and home. St Brigid is thought to be the Christianized version of the Gaelic fertility goddess, Brigid, and represented the light half of the year. There are many customs surrounding the celebration of St Brigid’s Day including making a bed and leaving food for St Brigid. Sometimes unwed girls would make a St Brigid doll or a young girl herself would be dressed up as St Brigid. They would also make St Brigid crosses which is a cross woven out of rushes with four arms and a woven square in the center.
So What About the Christmas Manger Scene?
Going back to the beginning of this post, Candlemas is the traditional time when Christmas Creches, or Nativity Scenes, or Manger Scenes are taken down because the day is the last part of the Christmas narrative. Look at the Christmas narrative as a natural progression:
- Advent – Jesus’ birth is announced by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. You put up the basic part of the Nativity set, but NOT the angels, shepherds, Magi, or Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Why? Because they are not there yet in the story. It is just a barn with some cows. If your set has a donkey, I would put that with Mary and Joseph. Mary, Joseph, and their donkey can begin the trip with different stops within your house, church, or whatever setting you have, but they do not arrive in Bethlehem (at the stable) until Christmas Eve.
- Christmas – On Christmas Eve, you add Mary, Joseph, Jesus, their donkey, the angels, and the shepherds. Do NOT put out the Wise Men (or, if you’re from Boston, Wise Guys). Why? Because they have only just seen the star and they haven’t packed yet, much less arrived in Bethlehem.
- Holy Name Day – January 1st. New Year’s Day is the eighth day after Christmas and the day when Jesus is circumcised in accordance with Jewish law. There’s nothing to add or subtract from the Nativity scene
- Epiphany – January 6th. This celebrates the Magi arriving in Bethlehem after following the star. Now that everyone’s in place, enjoy it a little!
- Candlemas – February 2nd. This commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary according to Jewish law, as well as the presentation of Jesus in the Temple with the required sacrifice as is required for all newborns. There is Simeon’s song greeting Jesus as the Messiah. Since this is the end of the Jewish ritual requirements for the infant Jesus, this is the end of the Christmas narrative.
Because Candlemas is the end of the Christmas narrative, you can take down your Christmas Manger Scene!
Packing Your Christmas Manger Scene Away
When you are packing away your Nativity, take the opportunity to note any damage that has occured so that you can repair it. You can also look about for sales in stores and online of additional pieces for your Christmas Manger Scene. You can also look at garage and estate sales for additional Manger sets or pieces.
Then you can start planning for next year because Advent and the start of the Christmas story is only ten short months away!
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments, please leave them in the comment area below.