This week, February 2nd will mark the end of our Christmas season. This day is like the trinity as what seems like 3 events are really just one, celebrating the Presentation of the Lord, Candlemas, and the Feast of our Lady of Candelaria.
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple marks 40 days after Jesus’ birth when Mary went to the Temple for her purification and His presentation. Here the prophets Simon and Anna proclaimed Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. This aspect of the day’s celebration is highlighted through the selected Scripture readings at Mass that recount Jesus was “offered to God,” an offering that foretells His complete sacrifice/offering He will make at the end of His life.
The second way this day is celebrated is as Candlemas which dates back to the 4th century. It is still the celebration of the Jesus’ Presentation but there is an increased focus on Jesus as light of the world. Since the 7th century, tradition holds this as the time to bless the candles to be used at the altar (of 51% beeswax or more) and now candles for the home can be blessed on this day.
Eastern Europeans and many others use this as the official day to take down the Nativity/creche as it is the formal close of the Christmas season. As a side, most Americans only know this day as Groundhog Day, which surprisingly still reflects on the centuries-old desire for more light (spring).
The final way this day is celebrated is as the Feast of our Lady of Candelaria. Although it is celebrated on the same day as the Presentation, its history and celebration are quite distinct. The roots of this celebration begin in the late 1300’swith a couple of Guanche goatherders who found a statue of a woman with a green candle in one hand and a baby in the other. They tried to destroy it but were unable to do so and a reverence for the statue grew by the natives. In the following century when the Spaniards arrived and brought Christianity, a Guanche convert to Christianity recognized the statue as the virgin Mary and the first formal celebration was in 1497.
The devotion to Our Lady of Candelaria spread throughout the Spanish empire especially with the movement of the sugan cane works of the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. Today It is a significant celebration in Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rice, and Peru (where it is the 3rd largest event on all of South America) to the patroness for the protection against epidemics, plagues, droughts and volcanic eruptions. In Mexico, it is the day to eat tamales (provided by everyone who got a baby in the Rosca de Reyes on Epiphany) in France/Belgium they eat crepes, and in Peru everything is on the menu.
For our part we will bless candles at the masses, eat tamales after the 6pm Mass, and pray for the light of Christ to come into our lives.
With a heart for Mission,