Sunday, December 27, 2009

Are You Keeping Any Christmas Decorations up until Candlemas, February 2nd?

There is a custom in many places in the Catholic world to keep the Creche and some of the garland up in churches and homes until February 2, the Solemnity of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. It is also known as Candlemas as lighted candles and all liturgical candles are blessed on this day as well. In the secular world, February 2nd is also Groundhog Day linked to the lighted candles in the dark of that morning and the groundhog seeing his shadow because of it. February 2nd is also 40 days after Christmas Day. In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Calendar, there is an Epiphany Season which is not observed, unfortunately, in the Ordinary Form of the Calendar. In the OF form of the calendar Christmas ends and Ordinary Time begins with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. In any reform of the reform, I would hope to see the Epiphany season restored to the Church's calendar. In a way it has been with Summorum Pontificum. The following is a good article on Candlemas as the end of the Christmas/Epiphany season:


February 2. Also groundhog day / hedgehog day

Candlemas is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas; subsequent holidays are calculated with reference to Easter, so Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season.

Candlemas is observed on February 2nd in the Western churches and February 15th in the Eastern churches. Its formal name is either the festival of the Purification of the Virgin (especially in the uniate rites of the Roman Catholic Church), the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (especially in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church). In the Orthodox Church it is known as the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and Savior in the Temple.

The date of Candlemas is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes 40 days afterwards. Under Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemas therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law (see Leviticus 12:2 - 8), should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification. The gospel of Luke 2:22-39 relates that Mary attended such a ceremony in the Jerusalem temple, and this explains the formal names given to the festival.

In the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at December 25, and Candlemas therefore falls the following February 2. The dating is identical among Orthodox Christians, except that the ecclesiastic December 25th of most Orthodox Christians falls on January 6th of the civil calendar, meaning that most Orthodox Christians celebrate the fest on February 14th.

The earliest reference to a celebration was when the intrepid pilgrim nun Egeria, travelling in the Holy Land, 381 - 384, reported that February 14th was a day solemnly kept in Jerusalem with a procession to Constantine's Basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2:22— which makes the occasion perfectly clear— and a mass. This so-called Itinerarium Peregrinatio ("Pilgrimage Itinerary") of Egeria does not offer a name for the Feast, however. The date, February 14 proves that in Jerusalem at that time, Christ's birth was celebrated on January 6, Epiphany. Egeria writes for her beloved fellow nuns at home:

"XXVI The fortieth day after the Epiphany is undoubtedly celebrated here with the very highest honour, for on that day there is a procession, in which all take part, in the Anastasis, and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests, and after them the bishop, preach, always taking for their subject that part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the fortieth day, and Symeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, saw Him, treating of the words which they spake when they saw the Lord, and of that offering which His parents made. And when everything that is customary has been done in order, the sacrament is celebrated, and the dismissal takes place."

In 542 the feast was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Justinian. In Rome, the feast appears in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a manuscript collection of the 7th and 8th centuries associated with Pope Gelasius I, but with many interpolations and some forgeries. There it carries for the first time the new title of the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Late in time though it may be, Candlemas is still the most ancient of all the festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary. The date of the feast in Rome was moved forward to the 2nd of February, since during the late 4th century the Roman feast of Christ's nativity been introduced as December 25th.

Though modern laypeople picture Candlemas as an important feast throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, in fact it spread slowly in the West; it is not found in the Lectionary of Silos (650) nor in the Calendar (731-741) of Sainte-Genevieve of Paris. Later, however, Candlemas did become important, and therefore found its way into the secular calendar. References to it are common in later medieval and early Modern literature; Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is recorded as having its first performance on Candlemas Day, 1602. It remains one of the Scottish quarter days, at which debts are paid and law courts are in session.

Candlemas is chiefly observed nowadays in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. In the Roman Catholic tradition it is the day on which believers bring beeswax candles to their local church to blessed for use in the church or in the home.
Relation to non-Christian celebrations

The actual date of Candlemas depends on the date for Christmas: Candlemas follows 40 days after. Thus there is no independent meaningfulness to the date of Candlemas. It is plausible that some features of pagan observances were incorporated into Christian rites of Candlemas, when the celebration of Candlemas spread to north-west Europe.

Modern neopagans have argued that Candlemas is a Christianization of an ancient pagan festival, Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Ireland at about the same time of year; this festival marked the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, and was celebrated with lights to hasten the coming of spring. This is close to the date of Candlemas in the eastern Church. There is however no evidence that this festival was widespread, and there is no reason to suppose that an Irish festival would have influenced the practice of the Jerusalem church in the late fourth century.

Secular historians have sometimes argued that the Roman church introduced Candlemas celebrations in opposition to the pagan feast of Lupercalia. The Catholic Encyclopedia is definite in its rejection of this argument: "The feast was certainly not introduced by Pope Gelasius to suppress the excesses of the Lupercalia," (referencing J.P. Migne, Missale Gothicum, 691). The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 agrees: the association with Gelasius "has led some to suppose that it was ordained by Pope Gelasius I in 492 as a counter-attraction to the heathen Lupercalia; but for this there is no warrant." Since the two festivals are both concerned with the ritual purification of women, not all historians are convinced that the connection is purely coincidental. Gelasius' certainly did write a treatise against Lupercalia, and this still exists (see Lupercalia.) Nevertheless it is clear that Candlemas merely follows by forty days whatever day is celebrated as Christ's Nativity.

The tradition that some modern Christians observe, of lighting a candle in each window (or in each room), does not appear to be ancient. It is not the origin of the name "Candlemas" which refers to a blessing of candles.

"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"

— Robert Herrick (1591-1674), "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"

As the poem by Robert Herrick records, the eve of Candlemas was the day on which Christmas decorations of greenery were removed from people's homes; for traces of berries, holly and so forth will bring death among the congregation before another year is out.

Hedgehog Day was observed by the Romans during the Festival of Februa on February 2. It is believed that when a hibernating hedgehog emerges from its den on Hedgehog Day and sees its shadow, there is a clear moon and six more weeks of winter. This is also the date bears emerge from their winter hibernation to inspect the weather; and wolves who choose to return to their lairs on this day know that the severe weather will continue for another forty days at least. In the British Isles, good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
there'll be two winters in the year.

In the United States, Candlemas evolved into Groundhog Day celebrated on the same date. replacing the hedgehog with a groundhog since there are no native hedgehogs in the Americas.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

In France, Candlemas is celebrated with pancakes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m.

Sailors are often reluctant to set sail on Candlemas Day, believing that any voyage begun then will end in disaster.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from Wikipedia and from


Anonymous said...

This is a very educational article!
Most helpful and interesting!

Learning about the historical development of our feasts and practices helps to strengthen my faith and appreciation for the richness of our Catholic traditions.

Thank you so much for posting this article.

-Brian said...

In our house the tree goes up between the 20th and the 24th and comes down on Jan 6th!

Also, our Creche and wreath stays up until Valentines day!

This was mainly do to Valentines day being more well known in our Pacific Islander household, than Candlemas. However, it was good to be refreshed on the feast of The Purification of the BVM! A move to honor that day of the Presentation seems to be more apt.

Anonymous said...

Yes Father we will keep Christmas until Candlemass. Our parish will also. We will have candlemass with blessings of candles and a procession. Today we had the blessing of wine at mass for the Feast of St John.

Templar said...

Our tree and decorations have always gone up at the start of Advent. They stay up until the feast of the Epiphany.

I was unfamiliar with the tradition of keeping the Nativity up until February, but we shall be doing so this year.

Jamie Pohlman said...

Yes, we put up our tree and all decorations a few days before Christmas and will take them all down again on Candlemas.

CaseyT said...

I linked this article on my blog: