Candlemas (also spelled Candlemass), also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a Christian holiday commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40. In accordance with Leviticus 12, a woman was to be purified by presenting a lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove as sin offering, 33 days after a boy's circumcision. It falls on 2 February, which is traditionally the 40th day (postpartum period) of and the conclusion of the ChristmasEpiphany season.[1] While it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve),[2] those in other Christian countries historically remove them after Candlemas.[3][4] On Candlemas, many Christians (especially Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists) also take their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year;[5][6] for Christians, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World.[7]

Blessing of candles on Candlemas at an American Episcopal church
Also called
  • Candlemass
  • Candlemas Day
  • Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ
  • Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Observed byChristians
SignificanceCommemoration of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple
  • Having candles blessed for the year during a service of worship
  • removal of Christmas decorations in some localities
Date2 February
Related to


Candlemas day by Marianne Stokes, 1901

The Feast of the Presentation is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church, celebrated since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem. It is mentioned in the pilgrimage of Egeria (381–384), where she confirmed that the celebrations took place in honor of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.[8]

XXVI. [The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.] But certainly the Feast of the Purification is celebrated here with the greatest honour. On this day there is a procession to the Anastasis; all go in procession, and all things are done in order with great joy, just as at Easter. All the priests preach, and also the bishop, always treating of that passage of the Gospel where, on the fortieth day, Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple, and Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Famuhel, saw Him, and of the words which they said when they saw the Lord, and of the offerings which the parents presented. And when all things have been celebrated in order as is customary, the sacrament is administered, and so the people are dismissed.[9]

The presentation of the Lord in the temple by Fra Bartolomeo, 1516

Christmas was, in the West, celebrated on 25 December from at least the year AD 354 when it was fixed by Pope Liberius. Forty days after 25 December is 2 February. In the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire, Roman consul Justin established the celebration of the Hypapante.[8]

Pope Gelasius I (492–496) contributed to the spread of the celebration, but did not invent it. It appears that it became important around the time of the Plague of Justinian in 541, before slowly spreading West.[8] The ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia in mid-February, in honor of Lupercus, the god of fertility and shepherds. The celebration of Feralia occurred around the same time.[10]

The Lupercalia has frequently been linked to the presentation of Jesus at the temple, particularly by Cardinal Caesar Baronius in the 16th century[11][12] especially because of the theme of purification that the two festivals share. However, this is probably inaccurate since Lupercalia was not celebrated in Jerusalem and it was only there that one finds some celebrations of the presentation of Jesus around this date. In fact, Pope Gelasius I had much earlier written a letter to a senator Andromachus, who wanted to reestablish the Lupercalia for the purpose of purification; and the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary mentions the celebration of the Presentation of Jesus, lending support to the conclusion that Gelasius substituted a Christian festival for a pagan one. However the Gelasian Sacramentary shows a strong Gallican influence and was actually compiled between AD 628 and AD 731, so it is possible that the addition of the celebration was not due to Pope Gelasius at all.

Moreover, when Gelasius addressed Andromachus, he did not try to use his authority, but contented himself to arguing for example that the Lupercalia would no longer have the effect it once had and was incompatible with Christian ideals.[11] This could be interpreted as evidence that he had limited influence on the Roman aristocracy.[13]

Centuries later, around the year 1392 or 1400, an image of the Virgin Mary that represented this invocation was found on the seashore by two Guanche shepherds from the island of Tenerife (Canary Islands).[14] After the appearance of the Virgin and its iconographic identification with this biblical event, the festival began to be celebrated with a Marian character in the year 1497, when the conqueror Alonso Fernández de Lugo celebrated the first Candlemas festival dedicated especially to the Virgin Mary, coinciding with the Feast of Purification on 2 February.[15] Before the conquest of Tenerife, the Guanche aborigines celebrated a festivity around the image of the Virgin during the Beñesmen festival in the month of August. This was the harvest party, which marked the beginning of the year. Currently, the feast of the Virgin of Candelaria in the Canary Islands is celebrated in addition to 2 February also on 15 August, the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic calendar. For some historians, the celebrations celebrated in honor of the Virgin during the month of August are a syncretized reminiscence of the ancient feasts of the Beñesmen.[16]

In Swedish and Finnish Lutheran churches, Candlemas is (since 1774) always celebrated on a Sunday, at the earliest on 2 February and at the latest on 8 February, except if this Sunday happens to be the last Sunday before Lent, i.e. Shrove Sunday or Quinquagesima (Swedish: Fastlagssöndagen, Finnish: Laskiaissunnuntai), in which case Candlemas is celebrated one week earlier.[17]

The Roman church's custom of blessing candles by the clergy found its way to Germany. The German conclusion that if the sun appeared on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast a shadow, making a "second winter", was the origin for the modern American festival of Groundhog Day, as many of Pennsylvania's early settlers were German.[18]


France and Belgium

Crêpes are a traditional food on La Chandeleur

In France, Belgium, and Swiss Romandy, Candlemas (French: La Chandeleur, Dutch: Maria-Lichtmis) is celebrated in the churches on 2 February. It is also considered the day of crêpes.[19] Tradition attributes this custom to Pope Gelasius I, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims arriving in Rome.[20] Their round shape and golden color, reminiscent of the solar disc, refer to the return of spring after the dark and cold of winter.[21] Tradition also says manger scenes should not be put away until Candlemas, which is the last feast of the Christmas cycle.

Even today there is a certain symbolism associated with the preparation of the crêpes. A tradition is to flip the crepes in the air with the right hand while holding a gold coin (such as a Louis d'or) or some other coin in the left hand, in order to have prosperity throughout the year. One has to ensure that the pancake lands properly back in the pan.[20]

In Belgium, it is customary to eat pancakes. All the candles in the house should be lit. It is believed that a clear sky on Candlemas foretells a beneficial year for beekeepers.[22]


Candlemas used to be an important date (Lostag) in the course of the year. It was associated with payment deadlines, fixed employment relationships and the beginning of the "farmer's year". In addition, many customs, weather proverbs, other sayings and rhymes are related to this feast.

The "farmer's year" began on Candlemas, from then on, depending on the circumstances, field work or the preparations for it can be resumed. On candlemas, the farmer should have had half of the winter food stock for his cattle. Depending on the proverb that one can eat by daylight on Candlemas, the time of in which people worked with artificial light sources, came to an end, as did the time where the women sat in the spinning room.

On this day, on the other hand, the "servant's year" ended. The servants were paid the remainder of their annual wages and could, or had to, look for a new job or extend their employment with the previous employer for another year, usually with a handshake. The custom of giving the servants a pair of shoes at Candlemas as a reward for further work or for looking for a job was also widespread.


Being a descendant of an ancient torchlight procession, in Luxembourg the current tradition of Liichtmëssdag is a holiday centred around children. In small groups, they roam the streets in the afternoon or evening of 2 February, holding a lighted lantern or homemade wand, singing traditional songs at each house or store, especially "Léiwer Härgottsblieschen". In exchange for the music, they hope to receive a reward in the form of sweets or loose change (formerly bacon, peas, or biscuits).[23]

Puerto Rico

This festivity officially finalizes the end of Christmas for Catholics in Puerto Rico; the festivities include a procession where the statue of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria (Our Lady of the Light) is carried on the shoulders. Others follow with lit candles until they reach the church where a mass is celebrated. In the evening, the festivities may continue with a giant bonfire and singing. Some families in the countryside burn their dried Christmas trees on this date as a culmination of the holiday season.[24]

Canary Islands and Philippines

Our Lady of Light (patron of the Canary Islands). The Virgin of Candles is depicted in the manner of a Black Madonna.

La Virgen de la Candelaria or Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of Light or Our Lady of Candles), popularly called La Morenita, celebrates the Virgin Mary on the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands (Spain). Our Lady of Light is the patron saint of the Canary Islands. The Basilica of Candelaria in Candelaria, Tenerife is considered to be the main church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and a Basilica minor since 2009.[25] Her feast is celebrated on 2 February (Candlemas, Fiesta de la Candelaria) and 15 August as the patronal feast of the Canary Islands.

In the Philippines, Our Lady of Candles is also the patroness of Western Visayas region. In Silang, Cavite, her feast is observed locally as a triduum from 1 to 3 February, with 2 February as the actual feast day.


The Virgin of Candles is the patron saint of Jacaltenango and her feast is marking the end of the Christmas season.[25]


Dressing and adoration of the Christ Child and family meals with tamales on Candlemas are an important Mexican tradition.[26] The customs of this feast is closely linked to that of the Epiphany, during which the tasting of the rosca de reyes (kings cake) will determine who is responsible for organising La candelaria. Whoever finds the muñeco (bean-shaped Christ child) in the cake is named godparent of the Christ child, who will then dress the niño dios (an image of the Christ child in the form of a doll) on Candlemas with richly decorated clothes. This Christ child is then brought to the church in order to be blessed. Memories of these events are often passed down from generation to generation in families.[27]

Following this is the family meal. Whoever draws the bean on Epiphany must also prepare tamales, which is believed to echo Mexico's pre-Christian past with its offerings of maize. The whole family is invited to this meal (often the same people as for the Rosca at Epiphany), which gives the festival an aspect of family and sharing.[27] These celebrations take place not only in Mexico but also in Mexican communities around the world, for instance in France. It is for this reason that the Mexican tradition also appears in the Inventory of intangible cultural heritage in France.


Diablada puneña during the Fiesta de la Candelaria in Peru.

The Virgin of Candles is the patron saint of the city of Puno in Peru, held in the first fortnight of February each year.[28] It is one of the largest festivals of culture, music and dancing in Peru. In terms of the number of events related to the cultures of the Quechua and Aymara peoples and of the mestizos of the Altiplano, and also in terms of the number of people directly and indirectly involved in its realization, it stands with the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and the Carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia as one of the three largest festivals in South America.

At the core of the festival are performances of music and dance organized by the Federación Regional de Folklore y Cultura de Puno, consisting of more than 200 dances in more than 150 dance sets. These include "native dances" from the various communities in Puno and sets of dances organized in different quarters of the city, mostly those known as "costume dances". These performances directly involve 40,000 dancers and some 5,000 musicians, and indirectly involve about 25,000 people including directors, sponsors, embroiderers and the makers of masks, clothing, boots, shoes, bells and other items.

See also


  1. Knecht, Friedrich Justus (1910). A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture. B. Herder. p. 410. Retrieved 27 December 2016. We keep a feast on the 2nd of February, forty days after Christmas, in memory of our Lord's Presentation in the Temple. This feast has several names. First, it is known as the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus. Secondly, it is called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the usual and popular name for this Feast is Candlemas-day, because on this day candles are blessed before Mass, and there takes place a procession with lighted candles. Candles are blessed and lighted on this particular feast.
  2. A Study Guide for William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning. 2016. p. 29. ISBN 9781410361349. Twelfth Night saw people feasting and taking down Christmas decorations.
  3. Edworthy, Niall (2008). The Curious World of Christmas. Penguin Group. p. 83. ISBN 9780399534577. The time-honoured epoch for taking down Christmas decorations from Church and house in Candlemas Day, February 2nd...Candlemas in old times represented the end of the Christmas holidays, which, when 'fine old leisure' reigned, were far longer than they are now.
  4. Roud, Steve (31 January 2008). The English Year. Penguin Books Limited. p. 690. ISBN 9780141919270. As indicated in Herrick's poem, quoted above, in the mid seventeenth century Christmas decorations were expected to stay in place until Candlemas (2 February), and this remained the norm until the nineteenth century.
  5. Hothersall, Barbara. "Candlemas – Festival of Light". Fulwood Methodist Church Magazine. Retrieved 27 December 2016. In some countries special candles are brought along to the blessing by the worshippers. These are often very elaborate and are highly treasured. Afterwards they are taken home and kept to be lighted at times of stress – during storms, in sickrooms and at the bedside of the dying.
  6. Pappas, Christopher A. (18 January 2012). "Ecumenical Candlemas (Feast of the Presentation)". Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Archived from the original on 10 January 2019. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  7. Mazar, Peter (6 March 2015). To Crown the Year: Decorating the Church Through the Seasons (2nd ed.). Liturgy Training Publications. p. 253. ISBN 9781618331328.
  8. Holweck, Frederick (1908). "Candlemas". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  9. "The Pilgrimage of S. Silvia of Aquitania to the Holy Places". Translated by John H. Bernard. 1896 [385].
  10. Dumézil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion. Vol 1. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1966. p. 366
  11. Green, William M. (January 1931). "The Lupercalia in the Fifth Century". Classical Philology. 26 (1): 60–69. doi:10.1086/361308. S2CID 161431650.
  12. (la) Barri Ducis, L.Guerin, Annales Ecclesiastici Caesaris Baroni, 186, t.
  13. Demacopoulos, George E. (2013). The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 74–80. ISBN 9780812245172. JSTOR j.ctt3fj4j1.
  14. "Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria" [Our Lady of the Candelaria]. (in Spanish). Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  15. GaldÓn, Sonia. "Medio siglo de fervor en Candelaria". La Opinión de Tenerife (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 24 August 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  16. Álvarez Delgado, Juan [in Spanish] (1949). Sistema de Numeración Norteafricano. A. Numerales Canarios.- B. Sistema Numeral Norteafricano: Caracteres. Estudio de lingüística comparada sobre el sistema de numeración y cómputo de los aborígenes de Canarias (in Spanish). Madrid: Instituto Antonio de Nebrija (CSIC). OCLC 459382352.
  17. Oja, Heikki (2007). Aikakirja 2007 (in Finnish). Helsinki: Almanach office of Helsinki University. p. 147. ISBN 978-952-10-3221-9.
  18. "Groundhog Day: How One of America's Weirdest Traditions Came to be (PHOTOS)".
  19. Charlton, Annette (1 October 2019). "La Chandeleur or Candlemas: A French Tradition". A French Collection. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  20. Collet, Natalie (28 January 2020). "La Chandeleur". French Library.
  21. Howard, Holly (1 February 2021). "Candlemas in France: Regional crêpes for La Chandeleur". The Connexion.
  22. "Candlemas, a celebration that dates back to the dawn of time and lives on in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in our folklore". Focus on Belgium. 18 January 2019.
  23. "Feste und Traditionen in Luxemburg" (PDF). Apropos (in Luxembourgish). The official portal of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  24. de la Vega, Wallice J. (4 February 2016). "Traditional Candlemas celebration still alive in rural Puerto Rico". Catholic Philly. Catholic News Service.
  25. Bayor, Ronald H. (31 July 2011). Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313357862 via Google Books.
  26. "What Is The True Meaning Of Día De La Candelaria?". 19 January 2016.
  27. Long-Garcia, J. D. (1 February 2019). "What is Candlemas—and who is making the tamales this year?". America. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  28. "The Festival of Virgen de la Candelaria, one of the most exciting celebrations". 16 July 2020.


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