Saturday, February 13, 2010

Candlemas or the celebration of Pagan traditions or simply a co-opting of St. Valentine’s Day?

Photo by Kenneth Hawes (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Tonight, in Armenia, the tradition of Tyarn'ndaraj (Տյառնընդառաջ, also known as "Ter'ntez") is celebrated. This religious holiday goes by many other names: Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the Meeting of the Lord, or Presentation of the Lord — all quite serious-sounding names, the sound of which would be enough to turn many away (including yours truly).

However, from what I’ve found out over the past couple of days, the holiday in Armenia is celebrated with a little something extra: with lighting of bonfires and well wishes for newlyweds (the former appealing to me more so). Of course, in line with the Christian holiday, the devout go to church this evening where they will light candles that they will then take with them and light in their homes. Oh, and the forementioned newlyweds get to be blessed by the priest.

 But along with this — more typical —celebration of the Presentation of the Lord, is the other, pagan, tradition: young newlyweds jumping over bonfires in their backyards, in front of their homes, and in Lovers’ Park, perhaps? From what I’ve been told, this is to ward off evil in the couple’s relationship, but a Wikipedia entry says women jump over the fire to purify themselves before conceiving, while men, apparently, come along for the ride :)

The bonfires also signal the end of winter and the coming of spring, though, it being February and there still being snow on the ground, I’m a bit skeptical.

Oddly enough, the celebrations begin on the eve of February 13, apparently 40 days after the birth of Jesus. That got me stumped because I was doing the calculations from December 25, and also because elsewhere Candlemas is noted as being celebrated on February 2 to 3. Then I realized the calculation should be done from January 6 (Eastern Orthodox Christmas, or Epiphany), though that would mean the holiday would fall on February 15, non?

In any case, celebrations begin tonight, but the actual holiday is considered to be tomorrow, February 14. Funny coincidence that is, don’t you think? Is it perhaps the Armenian Church’s attempt to take back sacreligious St. Valentine’s Day and make it a day for couples albeit with God’s approval and under Jesus’ watchful eye? According to this one priest, St. Valentine’s Day is nothing but a holiday invented by business owners and there is no such saint named Valentine in Armenian tradition. Besides, Armenians get to celebrate another day for lovers: St. Sargis Day. And what’s the harm in that?

But this evening, I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for bonfires across the city. I wonder what happy revelers would say if my partner and I held hands and decided to jump over the fire? I wonder if they’d ask us if we’re married first? :)

In any case, all this lighting of candles and bonfires is sure to make the city a little warmer tonight…

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