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Outdoors: Candlemas

Only the female worker honeybees between 12 and 20 days old can produce wax.

For remarkably convoluted reasons, Americans call Feb. 2 Groundhog Day, but in many parts of the world, the day is called Candlemas, and to followers of several religions, Feb. 2 is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This Holy Day refers to an ancient Jewish tradition in which a woman remains in semi-seclusion for 40 days after the birth of a son.

Then, she goes to the temple to be purified.

Indeed, according to the Bible, Mary did visit the temple 40 days after the birth.

Assuming that the baby was born on Dec. 25, the visit would have occurred on Feb. 2.

But in reality, long before the advent of Christianity, ancient people, noting that the day comes midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, had already been celebrating light and the impending changes in the seasons, often with torchlight processions and bonfires.

Leaders of the early Christian church were very good at assimilating pagan traditions into their holidays, and thousands of years ago, candles replaced torches in the processions.

The day became known as Candlemas.

From then until the present, some believers bring their candles to a church to be blessed on Candlemas.

But what did candles have to do with virgins?

Early church leaders pointed out that pure beeswax is produced by virgin honeybees.

And in that, they were absolutely correct.

Only the female worker honeybees between 12 and 20 days old can produce wax.

The young bees huddle together until they are warm enough that four pairs of wax-secreting glands in their abdomens can convert the sugar of honey into beeswax which sort of oozes out of their bodies in little scales.

Then, other bees collect these tiny flakes and chew the until the wax is the right consistence to sculpt into the hexagonal-shaped cells that make up the honeycomb.

Some churches still bless the candles on Candlemas; some denominations require that only beeswax candles be used in worship.

In many places, there still are candle-lit processions and bonfires.

And I guess some people believe that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Candlemas, that spring will come … eventually.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.