Candlemas, what it means and how the “candle festival” of February 2nd evolved

There Candlemas celebrates, through the blessing of candles in churches, the presentation of Jesus at the temple, which took place, according to tradition, 40 days after birth. This is why it is celebrated 40 days after Christmas, that is February 2. Lighting candles, in this tradition, is a metaphor for the revelation of Jesus. The occasion also celebrates another event, the purification of Marybut since the years of the Second Vatican Council the meaning of commemoration of the prevails presentation of Jesus. During Candlemas the blessing of candles, from which the name by which we know the holiday originates. Furthermore, customs and proverbs are associated with the anniversary in all Christian countries.

What is Candlemas and what does it mean

Candlemas is the name by which the celebration of the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem is known. Jesus was Jewish and, according to the law of Mosesthe firstborn children had to be brought to the temple and “offered to God”, according to a precise ritual, forty days after birth. Therefore, when the date of December 25 was established for the birth of Jesus, it was taken for granted that the presentation in the temple took place on February 2, that is, forty days later.

The Presentation in the Temple painted by Giotto

The celebration of Candlemas, however, also commemorates another event that occurred on that same day, the purification of Mary. According to Jewish tradition, after giving birth a woman was impure for forty days (sixty-six if she gave birth to a daughter). February 2, therefore, is also the day on which Mary returned to being “pure”.

The name Candelora, however, derives from the custom of blessing candles, which are considered a symbol of Jesus because, when he was brought to the temple in Jerusalem, he was greeted by priest Simeon with the nickname “light that illuminates the people”.

The pre-Christian origins of the anniversary

The celebration of Candlemas has incorporated elements of pagan cults. It’s probably related to Roman festival of Lupercaliawhich was celebrated in February in honor of Lupercus, god of fertility.

It is also possible that the celebration also has Jewish heritage. Candles have great relevance in Judaism, one of the symbols of which is the Menorah, the seven-branched candlestick. Furthermore, candles are the central element of the Hanukkah holidayalso known as the Festival of Lights, commemorating the consecration of a new altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Hanukkah celebration in the 1950s

The evolution of the Candlemas celebration

The celebration of Candlemas is attested since the 5th century AD. C., but originally it fell on February 14, forty days after the epiphany. The popularity of the occasion increased after 492, when Pope Gelasius I convinced the Roman Senate to abolish the Lupercalia festival. In the following century, at the time of Emperor Justinian, the celebration was brought forward to February 2nd.

Since then Candlemas has gained great popularity, but the meaning has varied depending on the periods and places. In oriental churches the celebration commemorates above all the meeting of Jesus with the priest Simeon, to the point of being called hypapanti, i.e. “meeting”. In WestHowever, throughout the Middle Ages and the modern age, Candlemas commemorated the purification of Mary and was considered a Marian celebration, as officially sanctioned in the sixteenth century by the Council of Trent. However, in the 1960s the Vatican Council II wanted to give centrality to the figure of Jesus and established that the day celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Simeon and Jesus.  Painting by Alexey Yegorov

Popular traditions and proverbs

The celebration of Candlemas is widespread in many Christian countries and has given rise to countless proverbsmany of which are related to meteorology, and various popular traditions. For example, in France and Belgium it is a day when it is customary to prepare crepes.

The figure of the. is also associated with the celebration Virgin of Candelariawhich derives from the legend according to which in 1392 two natives found a statue of the Madonna in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, who were not yet Christian at the time. The local population soon began to venerate the statue and at the end of the fifteenth century, when the Canary Islands were conquered by Spain, the celebration took on a Marian character. Today the Virgin of Candelaria is the patron saint of the Canary Islands and is venerated in several Latin American countries.

The Virgin of Candelaria

Even in Italy the traditions and proverbs associated with Candlemas are numerous. For example, al Sanctuary of Montevergine, near Avellino, on February 2nd there is a gathering of transvestites, of whom “Mamma Schiavona”, the Madonna venerated in the sanctuary, is considered the protector. TO CataniaHowever, the celebration of Candlemas is incorporated into the feast of Sant’Agata, patron saint of the city.