Candlemas: Christians bless candles on Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

Three lit candles against dark background

Traditionally, candles are blessed on Candlemas. Photo by Erika Smith, courtesy of Flickr

“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.”
Old English Proverb on Candlemas

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2: The blessing of candles and the celebration of an event early in the life of Jesus is the focal point of today’s feast, Candlemas. (Alternative names are Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin and the Meeting of the Lord.) Both Eastern and Western Christians recall the Gospel of Luke’s description of Mary and Joseph taking baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. Following Jewish custom, this visit was for ritual purification.

Once at the Temple, the young family met a man called Simeon. One English translation of the story in Luke says: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” According to Luke, Simeon recognized Jesus as fulfilling this promise. The young family also encountered a revered woman named Anna, who similarly offered praise for the young Jesus. Simeon informed Mary that her heart would be “pierced with a sword” during the tragic future in store for her young son; thus, Christians today see some depictions of “he Immaculate Heart” showing Mary symbolically pierced by a sword for her sorrows.

The Feast of the Presentation ranks one of the oldest in the Church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. (Wikipedia has details.) Though once a minor feast, it was after a 541 CE plague in Constantinople that the feast soared in popularity.

A POPULAR BLESSING OF CANDLES

True to its name, Candlemas began as a time for priests to bless candles for both the church and congregation members, in preparation for the coming year. In some countries, the blessed candles are decorated with ribbons and symbols, before being placed in windows for protection. (Check out family-centered Candlemas ceremony ideas and prayers at Catholic Culture.) Some communities still conduct candlelit processions, or distribute blessed candles. By custom, the absolute last Christmas decorations are removed on Candlemas.

COLORFUL FOODS:
CREPES SUZETTE TO TAMALES

In France, Candlemas customs including the eating of crepes after 8 p.m.; in Mexico, Candlemas means tamales and a party thrown by the recipient of the Three Kings Day cake coin. (Find recipes and more at Fish Eaters.) In some regions of Mexico, the baby Jesus is removed from the nativity and dressed in colorful clothing.