Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve : some tips from Robert Herrick

A little early for this (Candlemas is on 2nd February), but I thought I’d slip it in while I’ve got the time.  It will also give you time to make any necessary preparations.

Candlemas is (or was) a festival that satisfied an obvious need in the communal psyche, but seemed to have only a tenuous connection with its ostensible religious purpose.  As my Idler’s diary for 2009 put it –

“Candlemas was the common name for the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.  In the morning, many candles were lit in the church, symbolically driving out the dark.  In the afternoon, there was feasting all round, with much music.  Candlemas marked the formal end of winter.”  

It was also the day when people took down their Christmas decorations – the holly,  ivy and mistletoe they’d brought into the house at Christmas – and replaced them with other greenery that suggested the coming of spring.   I suppose the contemporary equivalent would be buying a bunch of daffodils and sticking them in a vase.  (My daffodils, which, as I noted on here, made an appearance as shoots in November seem to have woken up again after the snow and are making renewed efforts  to grow). 

A poem that gives some helpful tips on how to prepare for it is Robert Herrick’s “Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve”.  Herrick’s best-remembered poems are probably the gently erotic ones he wrote as a young man, which often had a carpe diem theme, but he also wrote also wrote in a not incompatible way about the changing seasons and the rhythms of rural and devotional life.  A clergyman, he was deprived of his living during the Protectorate for his Royalist sympathies (and possibly his saucy verses).  In his own day he seems to have been seen as unsophisticated as compared to the likes of Donne, but was enormously popular with the Victorians for the sweetness and simplicity of his verse (he had eight poems in the Golden Treasury, for instance, to Donne’s one).  I’ve always liked him, and am making a mental note to go back and read him properly.   



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.

(This, incidentally, is what he looked like.  Perhaps a slight hint of Harry Enfield’s Scousers here?)

Calm down calm down


3 thoughts on “Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve : some tips from Robert Herrick

  1. Take down the decorations ? Today ? Certainly not, especially this year, In oral history interviews, ‘ Long Christmas’ ‘ sounded brilliant – perfect antidote to January blues – but would involve going into other houses……

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