“In Christian communities today, it continues to be a day of purification, renewal, and hope. Some call the day Candlemas (Candle Mass)… local churches hand out candles, or people bring their own, to be blessed.”
What is Candlemas?
On February 2, exactly 40 days after Christmas, we commemorate Mary’s adherence to the Mosaic law as she entered the Temple for the ritual purification, as explained in Leviticus 12:2-8. Also, forty days was the time when a firstborn was brought to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord (Exodus 13:2-12). The Gospel reading for The Feast of the Presentation describes the scene: “And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” The story continues as Simeon holds the baby in his arms and says that Jesus will be a light for the Gentiles (Luke 2:22-32).
In Christian communities today, Candlemas continues to be a day of purification, renewal, and hope. Some call the day Candlemas (Candle Mass), which comes from the activities associated with the feast. Often local churches hand out candles, or people bring their own, to be blessed. After an antiphon, during which the candles held by the people are lighted, there is a procession into the church. During the procession to the church, the Nunc Dimittis is sung, replicating the words that Simeon proclaimed. In Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, the procession into the church for Mass commemorates Christ’s entrance into the temple.
Various traditions developed about Candlemas, including the following:
Candlemas was the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. An old English song goes: If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come winter, have another flight; If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, Go winter, and come not again. Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. Of course, this practice led to the folklore behind “Groundhog Day,” which falls on February 2.
Crepes and Coins
It is traditional to eat crepes (thin pancakes) on Candlemas in some parts of Europe, such as France. Each family member prepares and cooks a crepe while holding a coin in hand. This is believed to assure wealth and happiness until the next Candlemas celebration. Another tradition involves taking turns to flip the pancake with a flick of the wrist, deftly maneuvering the pan with the right hand while holding a coin in the left. The crepe must not fall, stick to the ceiling, or come back down in shreds. Achieving this feat successfully will bring happiness.
Candlemas is also known as Candelaria in Spanish speaking countries. One tradition is that whoever found the baby figure inside the Rosca de Reyes (Kings Cake) on Epiphany (January 6) – that person is obliged to bring food to the Candelaria gathering on February 2nd.
Candlemas Bells Flowers
Snowdrops (galanthas nivalis) are known as Candlemas Bells because they often bloom early in the year, even before Candlemas. According to folklore, an angel helped these Candlemas bells to bloom and gave them as a sign of hope to Eve, who wept in despair over the cold and death that had entered the world. Many Christians see the flower as a symbol of Jesus Christ being the hope for the world.
Sharon Ely Pearson is an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI). She is the author/editor of several books, most recently The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook and Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century. When not traveling for work or pleasure, she enjoys tossing tennis balls to her year old black lab, Chobe.