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Tossing a Pancake One-Handed

Candlemas is on 2 February 2022

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To explore our understanding of the origins of festivals, particularly Candlemas.

Preparation and materials

  • The story of Jesus’ presentation at the temple is found in Luke 2.22-40.

Assembly

  1. Ask the students, ‘Who has ever tried to toss a pancake?’

    Encourage student stories of successes and disasters.

  2. The most common time to try this tricky task is on Pancake Day, which is also known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the day before the start of the Christian period of Lent. However, in some French-speaking countries, it’s performed (with a twist) on 2 February as part of the festival of Candlemas. The twist is that the pancake, or crêpe, has to be tossed with the right hand while holding a gold coin in the left hand. A successful performance guarantees financial good fortune over the following 12 months.

  3. The origins of festivals can be very jumbled. In the Christian Church, Candlemas originally remembered the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple, which was part of a Jewish religious ritual. The ritual resembled the christening service that we may be familiar with today, except that it also involved the sacrifice of a pair of doves or two small pigeons.

    During Jesus’ presentation at the temple, a man called Simeon, a stranger to Mary and Joseph, took the baby Jesus in his arms and prophesied that he would be a light to help the people of the world to understand about God, but that he would also be a somewhat controversial figure.

    Candlemas became the festival in the Christian Church when Jesus is celebrated as a light, so lots of candles are lit in homes and churches. That makes sense . . . but you’re probably wondering where the pancakes fit in. Let’s wait and see.

  4. 2 February is exactly halfway between the autumn and spring equinoxes.

    Invite the students to explain what an equinox is (the answer is that it is a day that happens twice a year, on which day and night are approximately equal in length).

    Therefore, 2 February took on special significance for people who organized their lives around the phases of the sun and the moon, such as those in farming communities. It was the halfway point, the time to change gear from winter to spring. And, if you think about it, a pancake, which is round and golden, looks rather like the sun!

Time for reflection

So, what is the festival of Candlemas really about, and why do we create festivals?

Well, religious festivals provide a regular reminder of key moments in the story that surrounds a religious faith. So, for Christians, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, Easter marks his death and resurrection, Whitsun marks the coming of the Holy Spirit and so on. There are also saints’ days, which remember the lives of special people who have passed on the Christian faith over the centuries. Other religions have similar sets of festivals.

Optional: you may wish to invite the students to give examples from their own religious traditions.

Candlemas is one of the less significant Christian festivals, but it reminds believers that Jesus is a light into a dark world.

However, we could also regard festivals as an excuse for a bit of a party, and that’s not a bad thing. By 2 February, we are nearing the end of winter, and that’s something to be celebrated. We’re nearly at half-term, a holiday that separates the two halves of the school year. To acknowledge that there’s light at the end of the long, dark winter tunnel is a good thing to do!

There’s a word that neatly connects these two ideas. The word ‘holiday’ derives from ‘holy day’. The religious festival, with its roots in the faith of the people, was also a day off from the drudgery and hardship of daily life, particularly in rural communities. It was a day to be enjoyed, a break from routine. The religious and the secular have become intertwined.

Let’s end with a bit of party music to lift our spirits.

Song/music

‘I wanna dance with somebody’ by Whitney Houston, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eH3giaIzONA (5.14 minutes long)

Extension activities

  1. If February half-term represents the turning point of the school year, how might that be celebrated? Invite the students to devise a festival.

    - What might be suitable symbolic foods?
    - What symbolic ritual could be followed by everyone?
Publication date: February 2022   (Vol.24 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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