Where does Candlemas come from?

Posted by Christine Nusse on Feb 2, 2007 | Categories: Seasons of the Spirit

The word Candlemas of course comes from the word Candle.
It has its origin in a mix of pagan, Jewish and Christian traditions:
– An ancient Roman feast, the Parentalia when dead were honored by all night vigils with torch and candles. The god Pluto and Proserpina(Persephone), Demeter’s daughter were honored.
– Another all night vigil, this time much more lively is also quoted : the priests of the god Pan roamed the streets of Rome, holding torches and lashing young women to ensure their fertility. Women would bear their breasts and welcome the lashes. This might be compared to some aspects of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras with the throwing of beads and the baring of breasts.

-Celtic traditions honor Brigid, the fertility goddess on this date. She got ‘demoted’ by the Church from goddess to saint! Her feast was celebrated at the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The winter is half over and seeds begin their still invisible germination within the earth. Days are longer. Hope is renewed.
– The Christian feast finds its origin in the Jewish law which required mothers of baby boys to go to the temple in Jerusalam to be purified, 40 days after the birth, and fathers to consecrate their first born son to God. This is what Mary and Joseph did. See Luke 2:21. Both went up with Jesus and the prescribed offerings of two doves. There they met the old man Simeon and the prophetess Anna.

In 472 CE, the pope Gelase, probably tired of the all night Pan festivities, decided to Christianize the day, I mean the night, and offer an alternative. He organized processions with candles from church to church, celebrating Jesus, ‘light of Israel’, to quote the old Simeon.
Thus, the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple were bundled up together, with -of course- the Presentation taking first place.
Today, Ground Hog Day seems to be better known than Candlemas and all the other traditions, rituals and celebrations. To the exception perhaps of crepe-making in France, at least.

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