Originally written on February 2, 2020. Updated on February 2, 2023
Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a very old holiday with a Christian-Pagan history commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40).
According to Leviticus 12, the third book of the Old Testament, a woman was to be purified by presenting a lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove as sin offering, 33 days after a boy’s circumcision.
It falls on February 2, which is traditionally the 40th day of and the conclusion of the Christmas–Epiphany season.
Despite it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), those in other Christian countries historically remove them after Candlemas. On this day, many Christians (especially Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics) bring candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year. For them, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who referred to Himself as the Light of the World.
In any case, this holiday is one of the oldest of the Christian church, celebrated since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem, as there are sermons on the Feast by the bishops Methodius of Patara (died 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (died 360), Gregory the Theologian (died 389) and others, and It is also mentioned in the pilgrimage of Egeria (381–384), where she confirmed that the celebrations took place in honor of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
Women had to wait forty days after childbirth before entering a church or Temple again due to “uncleanliness”. This waiting period is still observed in Eastern Orthodox Christian churches today, and all Christian churches schedule the Christening for forty days after the birth in keeping with this ancient purification practice. This special forty-day period in the Christian calendar is one of four such in the esoteric Church year. The other three forty-day periods are Fall Equinox (Sept 21) to AllSaints Day (Oct. 31, Nov.1), Spring Equinox (Mar 21) to May Day (May 1) and of course Lent, the forty-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday every year. Candlemas is a church “adaptation” of a pagan holiday called Imbolc where people light candles to banish dark spooks.
Christmas was, in the West, celebrated on December 25 from at least the year AD 354 when it was fixed by Pope Liberius. And so, forty days after December 25 is February 2.
Years before, the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia in mid-February, in honor of Lupercus, the god of fertility and shepherds. The Lupercalia has frequently been linked to the presentation of Jesus at the temple, particularly by Cardinal Caesar Baronius in the 16th century especially because of the theme of purification that the two festivals share.
In France, Belgium, and some parts of Swiss, Candlemas (French: La Chandeleur) is also considered the day of crêpes. Tradition attributes this custom to Pope Gelasius I, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims arriving in Rome, but one can also see it as a vestige of the custom of Vestal Virgins making offerings of cakes at the time of the Lupercalia. To celebrate Candlemas, all the candles in the house should be lit and tradition also says manger scenes should not be put away until this day, which is the last feast of the Christmas cycle. It is also said that the pancakes, with their round shape and golden color reminiscent of the solar disc, refer to the return of Spring after the dark and cold of Winter.
Still today there is a certain symbolism associated with the preparation of the crêpes: a curious tradition dating back to the late fifth century and linked to a fertility rite is to flip the crepes in the air with the right hand while holding a coin in the left hand, in order to have prosperity throughout the year. Of course, ensure that the pancake lands properly back in your pan! It is also said that the first crepe made should be kept in an armoire to ensure a plentiful harvest later in the year, and It is sometimes specified that it be placed at the top, and the pancake will supposedly not get moldy and will keep misery and deprivation far away.
In Puerto Rico, this holiday officially finalizes the end of Christmas for Christians and the festivities include a procession where the statue of the “Virgen de la Candelaria” is carried on the shoulders. Others follow with lit candles until they reach a church where a Mass is celebrated. In the evening, the festivities continue with a giant bonfire and singing.
Virgin of Candelaria is, on the other hand, patron of the Canary Islands. In this Spanish archipelago began the identification of the Candlemas with the Virgin Mary and she is depicted as a Black Madonna.
In Mexico, it is traditional to celebrate the presentation of the Christ child in the temple on February 2. The dressing and adoration of the child Jesus and family meals with tamales are an important Mexican tradition. This festival is closely linked to that of the Epiphany, during which the tasting of the rosca de reyes (kings cake) will determine who is responsible for organizing Candlemas. Whoever finds the muñeco (bean-shaped Christ child) in the cake is named godfather of the child, who will then dress the niño dios (an image of the Christ child in the form of a doll) on Candlemas with richly decorated clothes, which is then brought to the church to be blessed. Following this is the family meal: whoever draws the bean on Epiphany must also prepare tamales, which is believed to echo Mexico’s pre-Christian past with its offerings of maize.
The “Virgin of Candelaria” is also the patron saint of the city of Puno in Peru, held in the first fortnight of February each year, and It is one of the largest festivals of culture, music and dancing in the country.
At the core of the festival are performances of music and dance organized by the Federación Regional de Folklore y Cultura de Puno, consisting of more than 200 dances in more than 150 dance sets. These performances directly involve 40,000 dancers and some 5,000 musicians, and indirectly involve about 25,000 people including directors, sponsors, embroiderers and the makers of masks, clothing, boots, shoes, bells and other items.
Back to Europe, being a descendant of an ancient torchlight procession, in Luxembourg “Liichtmëssdag” is a holiday centered around children. In small groups, they roam the streets in the afternoon or evening of February 2, holding a lighted lantern singing traditional songs at each house or store. In exchange for the music, they hope to receive a reward in the form of sweets or loose change (in the past bacon, peas, or biscuits).
in Poland there is a beautiful legend that Mary, the Mother of God of the Blessed Thunder Candle (Matka Boska Gromniczna), watches on wintry nights around Candlemas, when hungry wolves are on rampage outside the sleeping village. With her thunder candle she wards off the ravenous pack and protects the peasants from all harm.
Moreover, all over Europe Candlemas was considered one of the great days of weather forecasting.
Popular belief claims that bad weather and cloudy skies on February 2 mean an early and prosperous summer. If the sun shines through the greater part of Candlemas Day, there will be at least 40 more days of cold and snow. And, not by chance the Grundhog day, is celebrated on this day too….
Images from Web – Google Research