Ask most people what Feb. 2 is, and they might tell you it’s Groundhog Day.
But the date, falling 40 days after Christmas, is also the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the commemoration of the day Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple and made a sacrifice of a lamb and a turtledove, or if they could not afford a lamb, two turtledoves.
The sacrifice was for the ritual purification of the mother, so the feast also has been known as the Purification of Mary.
In some communities, especially those with significant Mexican populations, people bring figures of the Christ child to church that day to be blessed, said Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia, 2651 S. Central Park Ave.
“A lot of people will bring the one that’s been in their Nativity set,” he said. “Or they will get a new one to bring.” Then, after the baby has been blessed, they take them home and pack them away with the rest of the Nativity scene and other Christmas items, signifying the end of the season. “Then they’ll bring them out next year,” Nevins said.
Nevins expected perhaps 100 people to attend the evening Mass at St. Agnes of Bohemia on Feb. 2, a Monday this year.
“When it falls on a weekend, we get quite a few more,” he said.
The figures of the Christ child they bring generally vary from only an inch or two long, to fit into a tabletop Nativity scene, to life-size.
“Some people bring figures the size of a 40-day-old baby,” he said.
The day was also traditionally known as Candlemas, a day when Catholics would receive candles at church. According to the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholics would carry the lit candles in a procession, signifying the entry of the Light of the World into the Temple in Jerusalem.
Nevins said he remembers people buying or receiving candles from the parish, which they would have blessed and bring home. The candles, lit at the presentation of Jesus, signified his role as the Light of the World.
Do you remember Christmas when you were a child? I recall the excitement that the approach of the holiday created in me. During the month of December, Christmas was never far from my thoughts. What gifts would I receive? With little resources, what present could I give to my mom and dad? Of course, the closer to Dec. 25, the more my excitement intensified.
When people line up in front of Catholic Charities headquarters on 721 N. LaSalle St. for the agency’s free evening suppers they have some new company as they wait: the Jesus the Homeless sculpture created by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears in both Christian and Muslim holy texts and she has been used as both a bridge and a barrier to dialogue between the two faiths.