From Academic Kids

Candlemas is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas; subsequent holidays are calculated with reference to Easter, so Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season.

"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"
Robert Herrick (1591-1674), "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"


Candlemas is observed on February 2nd; in those Eastern churches that have kept the Julian Calendar, this comes out as February 15th of the modern calendar. Its formal name is either the festival of the Purification of the Virgin (especially in the uniate rites of the Roman Catholic Church), or the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (especially in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church). In the Orthodox Church it is known as The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and Savior in the Temple, and in Anglican Churches it is known by various names, including The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in The Temple (ECUSA), The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Anglican Church of Canada), and The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Church of England and Anglican Church of Australia).

The date of Candlemas is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes 40 days afterwards. Under Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemas therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law (see Leviticus 12:2 - 8), should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification. The gospel of Luke 2:22-39 relates that Mary was purified according to the religious law, followed by Jesus' presentation in the Jerusalem temple, and this explains the formal names given to the festival.

In the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at December 25, and Candlemas therefore falls the following February 2. The dating is identical among Orthodox Christians, except that the ecclesiastic December 25th of most Orthodox Christians falls on January 6th of the civil calendar due to a theological dispute related to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, meaning that most Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast on February 14th. In the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Feast, called "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple", is also celebrated on February 14.


The earliest reference to a celebration was when the intrepid pilgrim nun Egeria, travelling in the Holy Land, 381-384 AD, reported that February 14th was a day solemnly kept in Jerusalem with a procession to Constantine's Basilica of the Resurrection a homily on Luke 2:22 (which makes the occasion perfectly clear), and a Liturgy. This so-called Itinerarium Peregrinatio ("Pilgrimage Itinerary") of Egeria does not offer a name for the Feast, however. The date, February 14 proves that in Jerusalem at that time, Christ's birth was celebrated on January 6, Epiphany. Egeria writes for her beloved fellow nuns at home:

"XXVI The fortieth day after the Epiphany is undoubtedly celebrated here with the very highest honour, for on that day there is a procession, in which all take part, in the Anastasis, and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests, and after them the bishop, preach, always taking for their subject that part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the fortieth day, and Symeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw Him, treating of the words which they spake when they saw the Lord, and of that offering which His parents made. And when everything that is customary has been done in order, the sacrament is celebrated, and the dismissal takes place."

In 542 the feast was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Justinian. In Rome, the feast appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a manuscript collection of the 7th and 8th centuries associated with Pope Gelasius I, but with many interpolations and some forgeries. There it carries for the first time the new title of the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Late in time though it may be, Candlemas is still the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary. The date of the feast in Rome was moved forward to the 2nd of February, since during the late 4th century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity been introduced as December 25th.

Though modern laypeople picture Candlemas as an important feast throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, in fact it spread slowly in the West; it is not found in the Lectionary of Silos (650) nor in the Calendar (731-741) of Sainte-Genevieve of Paris.

The 10th century Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester, has a formula used for blessing the candles. Candlemas did become important enough to find its way into the secular calendar. It was the traditional day to remove the cattle from the hay meadows, and from the field that was to be ploughed and sown that spring. References to it are common in later medieval and early Modern literature; Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is recorded as having its first performance on Candlemas Day, 1602. It remains one of the Scottish quarter days, at which debts are paid and law courts are in session.

Candlemas is chiefly observed nowadays in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. In the Roman Catholic tradition it is the day on which believers bring beeswax candles to their local church to blessed for use in the church or in the home.

Relation to non-Christian celebrations

The actual date of Candlemas depends on the date for Christmas: Candlemas follows 40 days after. Thus there is no independent meaningfulness to the date of Candlemas. It is plausible that some features of pagan observances were incorporated into Christian rites of Candlemas, when the celebration of Candlemas spread to north-west Europe.

Modern neopagans have argued that Candlemas is a Christianization of an ancient pagan festival, Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Europe at about the same time of year; this festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, and was celebrated with lights to hasten the coming of spring. This is close to the date of Candlemas in the eastern Church. Christians currently counter-argue there is no evidence that this festival was widespread, and there is no reason to suppose that an Anglo-Celtic festival would have influenced the practice of the Roman church after the late fourth century.

Secular historians have sometimes argued that the Roman church introduced Candlemas celebrations in opposition to the pagan feast of Lupercalia. Many christian texts deny this, the Catholic Encyclopedia is definite in its rejection of this argument: "The feast was certainly not introduced by Pope Gelasius to suppress the excesses of the Lupercalia," (referencing J.P. Migne, Missale Gothicum, 691). The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 agrees: the association with Gelasius "has led some to suppose that it was ordained by Pope Gelasius I in 492 as a counter-attraction to the heathen Lupercalia; but for this there is no warrant." Since the two festivals are both concerned with the ritual purification of women, not all historians are convinced that the connection is purely coincidental. Gelasius' certainly did write a treatise against Lupercalia, and this still exists (see Lupercalia.) Nevertheless it is clear that Candlemas merely follows by forty days whatever day is celebrated as Christ's Nativity.

The tradition that some modern Christians observe, of lighting a candle in each window (or in each room), is not the origin of the name "Candlemas", which instead refers to a blessing of candles.


As a poem by Robert Herrick records, the eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes; for traces of berries, holly and so forth will bring death among the congregation before another year is out. Another tradition holds that anyone who hears funeral bells tolling on Candlemas will soon hear of the death of a close friend or relative; each toll of the bell represents a day that will pass before the unfortunate news is learned.

In the British Isles, good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later. It is also the date that bears emerge from winter hibernation to inspect the weather as well as wolves, who if they choose to return to their lairs on this day is interpreted as meaning severe weather will continue for another forty days at least. In the United States and Canada, Candlemas evolved into Groundhog Day celebrated on the same date.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate." [1] (

In France, Candlemas (French: La Chandeleur) is celebrated with crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m. If the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year.

Sailors are often reluctant to set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster - given the frequency of severe storms in February, this is not entirely without sense.

External links


de:Darstellung des Herrn fr:Chandeleur lb:Liichtmëssdag sv:Kyndelsmässodagen


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