Candlemas is a Christian holy day commemorating the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It falls on 2 February, and it is the very last day of Christmastide (Christmas and Epiphany Season). Although it is customary for Christians to remove Christmas ornaments on the Twelfth Night (Epiphany), many other Christian countries that wait until February 2nd to do so. Let’s explore what Candlemas Day means, and how Christians celebrate it.
What is Candlemas Day?
This holy day commemorates the Purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of Jesus. According to the Mosaic law, women were considered “unclean” for 40 days after giving birth and weren't allowed to take part in religious functions in the Temple. The ritual of purification marked the end of such a quarantine. It is described in the Leviticus as follows:
8 And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons;
the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering:
and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
Leviticus 12:8 King James Version (KJV)
Candlemas Day also remembers the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem (the fourth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary). According to the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the Jerusalem Temple 40 days after his birth to complete Mary's ritual purification and to perform the redemption of the firstborn through sacrifice:
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Luke 2:23-24 New International Version (NIV)
That same day, the “just and devout” Simeon was at the temple. He, who would not die before seeing the Messiah, recognized the Infant Jesus as the Savior. Simeon the God-receiver took the child in his arms and uttered the beautiful Nunc Dimittis hymn:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Book of Common Prayer, 1662
In a remark to Mary, Saint Simeon told her that a sword would one day pierce her soul. Centuries later, this prophecy originated the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
This festivity is traditionally associated with the concept of light. The name “Candlemas” refers to the fact that all the Church's candles for the year were blessed on this Holy Day. Moreover, on Candlemas night, many people used to put lighted candles near the windows at home.
As we said, Candlemas falls on February 2nd. It can fall in the pre-Lenten season weather Easter is early enough. Candlemas never falls in Lent, because the earliest possible Ash Wednesday is on February 4th.
Several folklore traditions worldwide share a common “meteorological” belief that on that day it is possible to predict the end of the winter. Such an ability is often attributed to a hibernating animal, such as a bear or a groundhog. If that day the skies are cloudy, it means spring will come early. Otherwise, roughly six more weeks of winter are to be expected.
Since 1887, the American city of Punxsutawney, in Pennsylvania, hosts the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticator groundhog.
Following this custom, Punxsutawney Phil — eternalized by the ‘90s comedy “Groundhog day” — peeps out of his burrow and predicts the weather based on whether he sees his shadow or not. If he does see it, then, in the movie’s main character’s words, the winter “is gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.” Or there will be six more weeks of winter.