On February 2nd Christians observe Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Catholics, is a Christian Holy Day that celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and the purification of the Virgin Mary after giving birth to a child. This Feast Day focuses on hope, renewal, and purification.
Candlemas is an important Christian holiday, but it is not a public holiday in the United States, so businesses and schools remain open.
Candlemas is one of the Christian church's oldest Feast Days, dating back to the 4th century AD when it was first celebrated in Jerusalem.
It is celebrated 40 days after Christmas, the celebration of Jesus's birth. According to Jewish tradition a woman who gives birth to a boy is considered to be unclean for seven days and must remain at home for an extra 33 days before she can be cleansed.
The Feast of Presentation, therefore, happens on February 2nd because, according to the bible, after spending 40 days at home with her Son, Mary, together with Joseph, brought Jesus to the Temple on this date where he was consecrated to God. At that point, there was also a sacrifice of either a pair of doves or two young pigeons.
While Mary and Joseph were at the Temple, an old man named Simeon visited the holy place looking for the Messiah. When he held Jesus in his arms, he declared him to be the light who came to save the world from sin and darkness. This inspired the tradition, observed since the 7th century, of blessing candles during Mass on this Feast Day, which originated the term Candlemas.
How Candlemas is celebrated
There is usually a candle-lit procession before Mass, the most important symbol of Candlemas being the candles, which represent Jesus being the light of the world.
Candlemas was, historically, the Sunday during which all the candles for the following year would be blessed by the priest. People would also bring their own candles to church to be blessed.
There are many different Candlemas celebrations, as different countries have their own customs and traditions that they observe on this day.
On the same day in the United States, some people have replaced Candlemas celebrations with Groundhog Day. And whilst they may be very different celebrations, it is at least true that some of Groundhog Day might have been inspired by Candlemas. For example, there is an ancient tradition of being able to tell the weather for the following few months, and how long winter will last, by noting the weather at Candlemas.
Whilst this may not be true, there is old Scottish poetry that shows how popular this idea was:
If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter to come and mair.
If Candlemas's day be wet and foul.
The half o' winter gane at Yule.
In previous times Candlemas would have been a much more widely celebrated occasion. Historically people would have waited for Candlemas to take down their Christmas decorations. It was, after all, the end the ecumenical cycle, end of Christmas, and so officially the end of Christmas. Some people still follow that tradition.
In a Poem by Robert Herrick called 'Ceremony Upon Candlemas eve' we read that many saw Candlemas Eve as the day to remove the misletoe (sic) and other Christmas decorations, and also begin to think about Easter.
Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.
The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter's eve appear.
In France, Candlemas is known as La Chandeleur. It is celebrated with pancakes, which are supposed to represent the sun, and the return of longer days and warmer weather. One fun tradition in France is to hold a coin in your right hand (left hand if you are left handed), and a crepe in a pan in your other hand. If you are able to toss the pancake, flip it and catch it then you will have good luck all year!