For Americans, February 2nd is Groundhog Day offering a weather prediction; in Poland, where national holidays are mainly based on the liturgical calendar, it’s Candlemas, 40 days after the birth of Jesus. It commemorates the purification of Mary (in Biblical times, women were seen as impure after giving birth) and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (once the mother’s purification is complete, the grateful parents take the child to the temple to give thanks and offer sacrifices), and it marks the end of the Christmas season in Poland. Seriously, this is the day to put away Christmas decorations. Not to worry, after Candlemas, we can begin to think about paczki! Candlemas is traditionally celebrated by the priest blessing the beeswax candles that will be used in the church for coming year, and also blessing candles that the parish will use in their homes.
This has special significance in Poland because of the ancient Slavic protective ritual of the Thunder Candle. It is so significant that the holiday in Polish is Święto Matki Bożej Gromnicznej 🔈, referring to the Holy Mother of God and the Thunder Candles. The ancient Thunder Candles were lit during a storm to offer protection from lightening, and also from wolves.
Thunder candles are long and thick, may be decorated with religious inscriptions or images, fir branches and flowers, tied with a light blue ribbon to represent Mary. Today they are used for special celebrations, and blessed annually on this day to be recharged so to speak. The candle may be a gift at birth and used at First Communion, Confirmation, Anointing, or during a vigil before someone’s death, even being buried with the owner.
And that, my dear friends, is all I know about Candlemas Day in Poland and the Thunder Candle.
PS — Yes, I’m taking down our Christmas tree. I just love having it up, so I’ve gladly adopted this Polish tradition!