We’ve had plenty of grey and wet weather recently, but very little that has been really wintery. On Tuesday afternoon it was utterly glorious, so I sneaked out for a walk in the park. I tried to make the most of the time by also making phone calls, including one to my aged mother, who reminded me that it was Candlemas. Perhaps I should have known: the snowdrops – also known as Candlemas bells – had already been in full flower for a week or more.I am extraordinarily fortunate in that my mother is a fount of country lore and traditions. The older she gets, the more she seems to remember of things she learned as a child.
Such things fascinate me, both for personal reasons and as snippets that might find their way into my writing. On Tuesday, while bemoaning the grey damp weather where she lives, my mother warned me that a fine Candlemas bodes ill:
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight;
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.
There are lots of other traditions associated with Candlemas, as I found when I went online to check the wording of the weather rhyme.
Leaving to one side the fact I hadn’t realised it coincides with the American Groundhog Day, one thing I had known but had forgotten is that Candlemas is the day to take down any Christmas decorations that were left up after Twelfth Night. Presumably that’s what this poem by Robert Herrick is referring to:
Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).
The holly hitherto did sway;
let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.
Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.
With my surname, it’s not surprising that the common box – buxus sempervirens – has long been a family favourite, so I’m a little surprised this poem isn’t one of the vast repertoire of pieces my mother can recite from memory. I suppose she only married into the family, rather than being born a Box.
Anyway, it’s nice to know that we have a season of our own, even if it only lasts from Candlemas till Easter.