Candlemas is the celebration of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, and the purification of Mary, as both were Jewish traditions that would have potentially taken place. The original feast day is one of the oldest Catholic celebrations, dating from the 4th Century. Also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas is often referred to as the Festival of Light.
Following the birth of Christ’s attribution to 25 December, Mary would have needed to be purified thirty-three days after Jesus’ circumcision, which would fall on 1 January. To do this, according to scripture, she would present a purified lamb as a burnt offering, and a dove or pigeon as a sin offering, at the temple, at the time when her child, Jesus, would be presented to be blessed. Candlemas in the United Kingdom recognises this event, but its introduction adapted many pagan customs which were already celebrated in ancient Britain and Ireland.
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.John 8:12, KJV
The burning of candles is linked to Jesus’ claim to be the ‘light of the world’ but is taken from Imbolc, where lit candles would show the warming of the sun and invite the Goddess Brigid to visit homes. Candlemas tradition from the Middle Ages consisted of placing a lit candle in the window to welcome the Holy Spirit, in a very similar fashion. It has also been linked to weather divination, in the same was as Imbolc, to test whether Spring would come soon by observing the possible emergence of hibernating animals.
Candlemas is still celebrated within churches today, but it is no longer an integral part of the calendar for society-at-large.