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  • Helen

Happy Candlemas - for some!

I’m always slightly ambivalent about the changing of seasons. I watch the calendar after the winter solstice and long for the lengthening of the days and the promise of Spring. And when it comes, I always feel this faint sense of regret for the passing of the comfortable cosiness of winter evenings when the world somehow seems to make fewer demands than it does in the summer. I know that at the end of summer I’ll feel exactly the reverse, a mourning for the loss of summer’s freedoms and a dread of the ‘claustrophobic’ dark nights of winter!

But however you look at it, the coming of the light is a cause for celebration. The light of the afternoons has been lengthening gently and almost imperceptibly. Suddenly, I exclaimed this week. ‘Look, it’s five o’clock and it’s still light’. This was my 21st century version of the festival of Imbolc – celebrated by the ancients in the northern hemisphere half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox - in the first week in February.

When Christians arrived in these pagan communities, they needed to bring their own deity into the picture! They counted the days between the celebration of Christmas and the first week in February and associated those 40(ish!) days with Mary’s postnatal ‘days of purification’ after the birth of Jesus. The end of the 40 days were marked by a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph’s baby, Jesus, was ‘recognised’ as a ‘lightbringer’ by a man of great spiritual insight called Simeon. And so ‘light’ and ‘purification’ became the two themes of what Christians named, The Feast of Candlemas.

The coming of light without any sort of purification that I can recognise is coming to East London, just near the Olympic Park. This week, nearby residents are opposing rather than celebrating the plans for the installation of ‘new light’. The Observer reported development approval last week for a new stage in the construction of a new concert hall the width of the London Eye and the height of Big Ben in Stratford near the Olympic Park plus a night club, shops and restaurant. Plans include an advertising display covered with more than one million light emitting diodes showing videos and adverts from dawn till late. Naturally, many residents in the area where it's being built don’t want the strident light pollution or the sleep disruption. They don’t want to have to spend money on blackout blinds. They need their nights to be naturally dark and peaceful.

Light, it seems, needs to arrive at the right time and at the right speed.

In the struggle to become the best version of myself, I’ve often wondered whether I really want ‘new light’, whether I really want to see new things about myself and new ideas about the world around me. Like all of us, I know instinctively that seeing things in a new way can require something of me that I don’t want to give: maybe hard-won changes of habit, maybe the taking up of neglected responsibilities – maybe even the development of different attitudes. Half glimpses of the need to change and a new Spring-like season of possibilities in my life, can make me want to retreat into the cosy dark comfort of winter.

Perhaps I’ll light a candle and have a think about it. And hope that the light will dawn and growth will come - slowly!

Photo:A publicity photo for the MSG Sphere planned for Stratford, London. Photograph: The Madison Square Garden Company

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That looks like a nightmare, a scene out of “Bladerunner,” the constant amplification of the most ephemeral elements of popular culture. Much better the quiet light of a single candle or of moonlight. A much-needed time of light-relief and of the comfort of measured darkness.

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