What is Candlemas Day? History, and Traditions

Candlemas has various significance in history. It marks the end and start of a season. It has brought hope and joy to those who needed it.

On February 2, followers of Jesus bring candles to church to have them blessed. This practice is in preparation for Candlemas, an important Christian celebration. However, did you know that Candlemas has religious and cultural significance in many countries? Besides commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Candlemas signifies hope, the coming of spring, and so much more.

What is Candlemas?

Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. This holiday is based on Luke 2:22-40, where Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem for the purification rites. The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Feast of the Holy Encounter are other names of this holiday.

History of Candlemas

The Christian church has celebrated Candlemas since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem. The year 354 AD is when the West started celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. Forty days after, Roman consul Justin of the Roman Empire established the celebration of the Hypapante.

However, it wasn’t officially celebrated until 541 AD when Pope Gelasius I celebrated Candlemas. It also became a way to celebrate the end of the Plague of Justinian.

When is Candlemas?

Candlemas is celebrated on the 2nd of February, forty days after the 25th of December. Besides its significance to Christianity, Candlemas marks the midpoint of winter. It’s the shortest day and the start of the spring equinox. Pre-Christianity, Candlemas was known as the ‘Feast of Lights’. It is in celebration of the increased strength of the sun as winter gives way to spring.

Why are candles blessed at Candlemas?

Blessing candles at Candlemas have been a profoundly traditional ritual since the 7th century. Since the candle represents Jesus Christ, blessing the candle is in recognition of Christ as the ‘Light of the world’.

Traditionally, the only candles that should be blessed are those made with beeswax. Nowadays, candles with at least fifty-one percent beeswax are an excellent alternative. Beeswax symbolizes the pure flesh of Jesus as virgin bees extract beeswax.

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Candlemas Timeline

In 542 AD, Emperor Justinian ordered that Candlemas be observed in Constantinopole as thanksgiving for the end of the plague in the city. Back then, Candlemas was called Hypapante. This term refers to the time Jesus met Simeon and Anna at the Temple.

When the Western churches adapted Candlemas, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary rather than Christ.  In 1497, a Spanish conquistador from the Canary Islands named Fernandez de Lugo celebrated the first Candlemas dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

On February 2, 1974, Pope Paul VI promoted that Candlemas be considered a joint commemoration of both the Son and the Mother. At the same time, a tradition in Scotland dictates that children should drink punch and eat cookies instead of learning lessons. Children are also encouraged to make small monetary gifts to their headteachers.

Why is it Essential to Celebrate Candlemas?

It’s a historic Christian commemoration

Candlemas was first celebrated in the 4th century AD when they gave the earliest sermons on the feast in Jerusalem. Speeches by the bishops Methodius of Patara, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory the Theologian, Amphilochius of Iconium, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom were the most notable ones.

Candlemas was also mentioned in the pilgrimage of Egeria (381-384 AD). Here it confirms that Candlemas took place to honor the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

By the middle of the 5th century, lighted candles had been introduced as a custom and thus the name Candlemas. Pope Sergius I instituted the festival in the Western church in Rome.

In Eastern churches, Candlemas is primarily a festival of Christ. Until the calendar reform of 1969, Western churches primarily celebrated Candlemas for the Virgin Mary.

The “miracle of the virgin birth” is commemorated

Jesus’ presentation at the Temple served as confirmation of the miracle of the virgin birth. Before this, a lot were doubtful of Mary’s pregnancy. Only a handful of people had personally seen the birth of Jesus Christ.

This event is a crucial tenet of Christianity and a momentous occasion that led to Mary becoming a key figure within the Catholic church. 

How to Observe Candlemas?

Light a blessed candle

Jesus Christ is the perfect example of being the ‘light of the world’, and as His followers, we strive to follow in His example and teachings. In celebration of Candlemas, lighting a blessed candle reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and God’s purpose and goal in our hearts. We welcome Christ’s guidance and leading in our lives by shining a blessed candle. 

Go to church

Attending a mass isn’t only for celebrating the Feast of the Presentation but also serves as a refresher to the history behind this celebration. Going to church during Candlemas not only refreshes our memories but can also teach us something new. You may not know it, but bringing a friend on Candlemas can be an excellent opportunity to introduce them to Jesus.

Learn the history of the day

Candlemas day has been through a lot before it became what it is today. It has a rich and fascinating history that goes beyond Christianity. It has not only become an important day within the church but also to a lot of people around the world, and it continues to be commemorated.

There are numerous traditions from different countries and religions practiced on Candlemas. This day could be an excellent opportunity to learn and appreciate them.

Candlemas Customs Around the World

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France and Belgium

Besides celebrating Candlemas, February 2 is also considered a day of crepes in France, Belgium, and Swiss Romandy. This tradition hailed from Pope Gelasius I’s custom of distributing pancakes to pilgrims arriving in Rome. 

The rounded shape and golden color of the pancake are reminiscent of the solar disc, which refers to the return of spring after the dark and cold winter. It is also part of the tradition that manger scenes should not be put away until February 2, the last feast of the Christmas cycle. 

Germany

The ‘farmer’s year’ begins on Candlemas when preparations for fieldwork are resumed. It’s also when the ‘servant’s year’ ends. During this day, servants were paid the remainder of their annual wage.

They also had the option of looking for a new job or extending their employment for another year. It was also part of the custom to gift servants with a pair of shoes at Candlemas as a reward for their work. 

Luxembourg

In Luxembourg, Liichtmëssdag is a holiday centered around children who roam the street in the afternoon or evening of February 2, holding a lit lantern or homemade wand. The children sing traditional songs at each house or store, and in exchange for the music, they would receive sweets or loose change. 

Puerto Rico

Candlemas officially signifies the end of Christmas for Catholics in Puerto Rico. During this day, a procession is held where Nuestra Senora de Candelaria (Our Lady of the Light) is carried to church.

Fellow volunteers and believers have lit candles together with the statue until they reach the church, where a mass is ongoing. Festivities continue until evening, a large bonfire is lit, and attendees sing songs

The Canary Islands and the Philippines

On February 2, the Canary Islands celebrate the feast of the Virgin Mary, where they have a church dedicated to her. Our Lady of the Light or La Morenita is the patron saint of the Canary Islands, and they celebrate the patronal feast on the 15th of August.

In the Philippines, the patroness of Western Visayas is Our Lady of Candles. She is revered as an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding a large candle. Her feast is celebrated locally from February 1 to 3, with February 2 as the actual feast day.

It is part of the custom to keep the large candle you light on Candlemas as neat as possible. The candle is then passed on to the next generation because it is believed that we will use that very candle on Judgment Day.

Mexico

An important Mexican tradition is dressing and adoring the Christ-child and having tamales with the family on Candlemas. The customs practiced on Candlemas are closely linked to the Epiphany. 

During this day, the tasting of the Rosca de Reyes (king’s cake) will determine who is responsible for organizing La Candelaria. The godparent of the Christ-child is whoever finds the muñeco or the bean-shaped Christ child in the cake. They will have to dress the niño Dios in richly decorated clothes on Candlemas. The Christ-child doll is then brought to church to be blessed. 

Whoever draws the bean on Epiphany is also preparing the tamales. The whole family is invited to the meal, promoting family and sharing. These festivities take place in Mexico and Mexican communities around the world. 

Peru

The patron saint of the city of Puno in Peru is the Virgin of Candeles. Her patronal feast is held every first fortnight of February. It is considered one of Peru’s most prominent culture, music, and dancing festivals. Federación Regional de Folklore y Cultura de Puno is the core performance of the festival, and it consists of over 200 dances and more than 150 dance sets. 

Native dances from various communities in Puno and costume dances from different city quarters. Forty thousand dancers, 5,000 musicians, and 25,000 directors, sponsors, costume designers, and make-up artists bring the festival alive.

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In Summary

Like a candle burning bright amid darkness, Candlemas brings hope and joy to those who celebrate it. Whether it be in celebration of Jesus’ presentation or the spring equinox, Candlemas plays a significant role in the culture and religion of each country that celebrates this event. 

The presentation of Jesus is a proclamation that He is the Messiah. He is the light that conquered death and sin. As Christians, we should never forget the impact Jesus has on our once lost souls. His light has brought hope, warmth, and purpose to our lives.

We were dedicated to God, and as such, we must strive to live in Jesus’ examples. We must remember that we are a beacon that guides others to Christ. 

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Alex Shute
EDITOR
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.


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