Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ
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 Christmas–Epiphany season. While it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), those in other Christian countries historically remove them after Candlemas. On Candlemas, many Christians (especially Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists) also bring their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year; for Christians, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who referred to himself as the Light of the World.
The Feast of the Presentation is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church, celebrated since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem. There are sermons on the feast by the bishops Methodius of Patara (died 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (died 360), Gregory the Theologian (died 389), Amphilochius of Iconium (died 394), Gregory of Nyssa (died 400), and John Chrysostom (died 407). It is also 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
The Lupercalia has frequently been linked to the presentation of Jesus at the temple, particularly by Cardinal Caesar Baronius in the 16th century 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. This could be interpreted as evidence that he had limited influence on the Roman aristocracy.
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). 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. 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.
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.
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.