On Candlemas Day, February 2, followers of Jesus celebrate his Presentation at the Temple and the Virgin Mary being purified, with many of the faithful bringing candles to their churches to be blessed. Thereafter (in Poland, for example, where they’re lit and placed in windows to ward off storms), the candles represent Jesus and the day of his induction into Judaism, and they go toward explaining the name of the holy day, Candlemas.
Candle- what? Candlemas! Have you heard this holiday spoken about but never really understood what it is? Let’s fix that right now! There are two answers that mostly depend upon which way you want to look at it. First is the Christian viewpoint, then there is the more ancient viewpoint of how the day was celebrated before Christianity came about.
We’re going to take a look at both views so that you can understand it all and then find a way to make Candlemas a part of your yearly celebrations. Ready? Let’s getting cracking and find out more!
Learn about Candlemas Day
Candlemas Day is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ. It is a Holy Day in the Christian religion, which commemorates when Jesus was presented at the Temple. This account can be found in Luke 2:22-40 of the Bible. On this date, Christians will often remove their Christmas decorations. Of course, a lot of people do not follow this tradition today, opting to remove their Christmas decorations on the Twelfth Night, which is the eve of the Epiphany. There are some who simply remove them when it is convenient. However, for those who want to follow tradition, they will take their Christmas decorations down on this date.
A lot of Christians will also bring candles with them to their local church. They will then have their candles blessed, and they will use them for the rest of the year. This is especially the case for Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, and Anglicans. The candles are essential, as they are viewed as a symbol of Jesus Christ. If you’re familiar with the teachings of the Bible, you will know that Jesus often referred to Himself as the Light of the World.
There are different celebrations that take place all around the world on this date. It is certainly interesting to learn about the various ways that countries celebrate this occasion, and you can easily find this information online if you would like to learn more. For example, in Peru, one of the biggest festivals of dancing, music, and culture takes place during the first fortnight of February. There are many different events taking place, which are in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria, which is considered the patron saint of Puno; a city in Peru.
In Mexican tradition, some of the important celebrations on this day include enjoying family meals with tamales, which is a classic dish from Mesoamerican cuisine. The adoration and dressing of the child Jesus also plays a role in this symbolic day. In Puerto Rico, the end of Christmas is celebrated on this day. There are a number of different festivities that will occur on this date.
This includes a statue of the “Virgen de la Candelaria” carried on the shoulders, with people following behind with lit candles. In Luxembourg, this day is very much centered on the children. Small groups of children and adults will roam the streets, singing traditional songs to every house that they pass and holding a homemade wand or lantern. In exchange for singing songs, it is hoped that the children will receive some sort of reward. Today, this is typically some loose change or sweets. Traditionally, it was biscuits, peas, or bacon.
There are also celebrations across Swiss Romandy, Belgium, and France. It is considered the day of crepes here! Not only does everyone enjoy some delicious crepes, but everyone is prompted to light all of the candles in the house. Tradition also indicates that manger scenes should be kept out until Candlemas.
History of Candlemas Day
Near the end of the winter season, as ancient people looked forward to the planting season of spring, many different cultures found ways to celebrate this shift from the cold and dark days to a happier and more productive time of year. Ancient Celts took this time of year to honor the Goddess Brigid. Brigid was the Goddess of purification and fertility. They would honor her by processing from the village across the fields while praying for the health of their soil before planting. The Romans associated their festival to the God Lupercus. This was their God of fertility and shepherds, again playing into the desire to shake off winter’s bindings and bring fertility and light to the planting time.
When Christianity was moving through the world, they too decided to place a festival of light around this time of year. Candlemas in the Christian tradition is better known by two different names – The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus and The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a tradition for the churches to bring forward all of the candles to be used for the rest of the year for a special blessing.
How to celebrate Candlemas Day
How can you jump into the Candlemas festivities? One way to do this is to follow the awesome tradition of packing up all of those great decorations that you spent so much time planning and setting up! And don’t forget to look under the couch or wherever your pet likes to horde all of the little things that go missing in your house – trust me you might even find some socks! Don’t feel like parading down the streets to pray over the fields? How about bringing the proverbial light to your home by taking all your candles into a church to be blessed? Many still do this today thinking that this blessing will bring prosperity to the home as the candles burn. More blessings can’t hurt right?!
Feeling a little more adventurous? How about a leisurely jog with a pack of stampeding bulls? In Mexico, during a week-long religious festival, this is exactly what they do. Not quite your cup of tea? Try eating some crepes or tamales as is traditional in many countries across the world. Perhaps while munching on those treats, you might try writing down some goals for the upcoming year. This is a symbolic act of “planting” as you are making the beginning act of “growing” the outcome.
History of Candlemas Day
Among the many holy feasts in the Christian calendar, the Feast of the Presentation, or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, on Candlemas Day is one of the oldest, celebrated since the 4th century A.D. in Jerusalem. A woman of that time, Egeria, who’s credited with writing a detailed account of an extended pilgrimage to the Holy Land, described the Candlemas celebrations there:
“…all things are done in order with great joy, just as at Easter. All the priests preach, and also the bishop, always treating of that passage of the Gospel where, on the fortieth day, Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple, and Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Famuhel, saw Him, and of the words which they said when they saw the Lord, and of the offerings which the parents presented.”
In the 6th century, around 541 A.D., responding to a horrible plague that had struck Constantinople, Emperor Justinian I ordered huge prayer processions throughout the city during the Feast of the Presentation to ask God for deliverance from the evil of the disease. At this time, the tradition of holding blessed candles in reverence had long been in place, and after the plague passed, the regular celebration of Candlemas spread throughout the Roman Empire.
There are as many additional traditions and various guidelines for the observance of Candlemas as there are different sects and denominations of Christianity itself. Even instances of historical importance are sometimes contested and argued. At the base of it, a person of faith can turn to the relevant Bible verse, Luke 2:22-24. That passage describes how Mary and Jesus follow the rule in Leviticus that says an infant boy should be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, and that, thirty-three days later, the mother is considered “clean” and should burn an offering at the boy’s presentation at the temple on that 40th day.
Today, you might think the word “Candlemas” sounds antiquated, a reference to something like a scene from “Oliver Twist” or an old black-and-white movie. But to faithful Christians even now, Candlemas is a solemn and worshipful time, a time to try to be “a light in the world.”