Candlemas - February 2nd 

A tapestry from Strasbourg depicting the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (credit Wikipedia)

Candlemas is a festival on February 2nd which celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus and combines both the Jewish customs of the presentation of the first-born son in the Temple and the purification of Mary in obedience to the Torah (Leviticus 12Exodus 13:12–15).  It is described in the Gospel of Luke. Luke explicitly says that Joseph and Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb; Leviticus 12:8), sacrificing "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Leviticus 12:1–4.

As Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the temple, they encountered Simeon. The Gospel records that Simeon had been promised that "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26). Simeon then uttered the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus:

“LORD, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel “ (Luke 2:29–32).

Simeon then prophesied to Mary: "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34–35).

The elderly prophetess Anna was also in the Temple, and offered prayers and praise to God for Jesus, and spoke to everyone there of His importance to redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36–38).

Traditions and Myths about Candlemas

There are several ideas about why this day is called Candlemas.  The basic idea is that Jesus brought light into the world and as candles were the main source of light in people’s homes and the churches the day became known as Candlemas.

It was also a day when the priest would bless candles, usually beeswax candles, in a special service in the church. Later processions were held with people carrying candles.

An even later tradition is that every home should show a lighted candle in the window on the eve of Candlemas.

As Candlemas occurs midway between the longest night and the spring solstice there are many myths about the weather connected with Candlemas. An example of which is:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.”

The rhyme seems to mean that if it is nice on Candlemas you can expect six more weeks of bad winter weather, if it isn't nice on Candlemas Day, the weather should get better.   

The eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations and greenery were removed from people's homes and churches. The superstitious believed that If all traces of berries, holly and so forth weren't removed there would be a death among the congregation before the year was out. Nowadays any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th) should be left up until Candlemas Day and then taken down. Even nowadays some people don’t take down their Christmas cards until Candlemas. The poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674 reflects this:

"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall."

In France Candlemas is called the feast of Chandeleur and traditionally pancakes are eaten. One tradition is that the pancakes, with their round shape and golden colour reminiscent of the solar disc, refer to the return of Spring after the dark and cold of Winter.

There is a certain symbolism associated with the preparation of the crêpes. A 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. One has to ensure that the pancake lands properly back in the 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. It is sometimes specified that it be placed at the top of the armoire, and the pancake will supposedly not get mouldy and will keep misery and deprivation far away.

In the United States, February 2nd is known as Groundhog Day, perhaps because on this day groundhogs would come out of winter hibernation and stay out if the winter was over.