Purification of Mary
Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple

Candlemas is a traditional Christian festival that commemorates the ritual Purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of her son. It also marks the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. Christians were observing this holiday in Jerusalem at least as early as the 4th Century A.D. This goes back to a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child and were not permitted to enter the Temple to worship. This was 40 days after the birth of a son and 60 days after the birth of a daughter. At the end of the 40 or 60 days, the mother was brought to the Temple or synagogue and ritually purified. Now she can go to religious services again, and generally go out in public. So we celebrate the ritual Purification of the Virgin Mary, the specified forty days after she gave birth to Jesus (or, we used to.) The Feast of Purification is called Candlemas because that was the day on which the year's supply of candles for the church were blessed.

Christians were observing Candlemas in Jerusalem at least as early as the 4th century A.D. By the middle of the 5th century, candles were lit on this day to symbolize that Jesus Christ was the light, the truth and the way.

Finally, Candlemas is a cross quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many northern European pagans (persons who were not Christian, Jewish or Muslim) celebrated in various ways on the quarter days and cross quarter days. The early Christians made a big celebration out of Candlemas which gave new Christian converts something else to do when they might otherwise have been tempted to backslide. This is a very old tradition. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th because the early Roman Church wanted its flock to have something else to do during the pagan celebration of Saturnalia.

What does Candlemas have to do with Groundhog's Day? February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas. Scientifically or mathematically speaking, it marks the day that winter is half over!

What do you do on Candlemas if you haven't had a baby lately or if you're a guy? Well, you dress up in your best clothes, burn lots of candles and sing songs of praise. Maybe for good measure, you could throw in a feast and invite friends over! You could also have a candle making party!

Candlemas | Festivals of Light