The Candlemas Festival
The name ‘Candelora’ (Candlemas) arises from the popular tradition of blessing and distributing to the faithful the candles of Jesus which are said to defend the recipients against calamity and storms. In fact, lit candles symbolize Jesus Christ, the light of the world or light to enlighten the people, as he was called by the old prophet Simeon at the time of his presentation at the temple of Jesus.
This custom springs from the very words that Simeon, according to the Gospel, pronounced, as prescribed by the Jewish Law for the firstborn males. The symbol of the Blessed Candle is therefore the symbol of closeness to Jesus for believers.
Candlemas, derives from the Latin Candelorum, and is therefore an annual Christian celebration on February 2nd and recalls the presentation of Jesus to the Temple. In fact every firstborn male of the Jewish people was considered offered to the Lord, and it was necessary that after his birth the parents redeem him with the offer of a sacrifice.
February 2 falls just 40 days after December 25, the day of the birth of Jesus, and on that date Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple of Jerusalem to accomplish what was expected by Jewish law.
The festival is also called the purification of Mary because according to Jewish custom after 40 days from the birth of a male the mother, considered impure, had to go to the temple of Jerusalem to purify herself, as narrated in the Gospel of Luke. This impurity lasted 40 days for a male child and 66 days for a female.
Already since the eighth century AD the festival was very uch regarded and in Rome, in the Middle Ages, there was a long procession that started from Sant’Adriano, crossed the forum of Nerva and Trajan’s Forum, and the Esquiline Hill, to reach the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore . In more recent times the procession was shortened, taking place around the basilica of Saint Peter’s.
On the occasion, candles were placed on the altar of the Basilica with a red and silver silk bow and the papal coat of arms. Once the candles were blessed, the pope delivered his candle to the Papal chamberlain, along with the white silk handguard he had used to protect his hands from the hot wax, and proceeded to the blessing of the candles.
We know that many Christian religious festivals have been inspired by previous pagan festivals and also Candlemas is superimposed on a Roman festival. In fact, the Romans celebrated the Festa del Februatio, the moment in which the city was purified from the influence of the demons and which gave its name to the month of February.
Candlemas is celebrated 40 days after the Epiphany, or February 14th. Witness Egeria, the Roman writer of the IV-V century in his Itinerarium Egeriae. The name Candelora refers to the resemblance with the Lucernare rite, quoted by Egeria: “All the lamps and the candles are lit, thus making a great light” (Itinerarium 24, 4).
The ritual resembled the Lupercalia, a very ancient Roman festival that was celebrated during this period with torchlight processions: the priests of Luperco, called Luperci, directed two days of ceremonies dedicated to the purification of bodies to promote fertility.
At the base of these celebrations there was therefore always the idea of ’purification’ and of the light of the candles as its symbol. According to some, today’s ‘Candlemas’ must have been introduced to replace a pre-existing holiday.
Candlemas and Weather Forecasts
Candlemas is also linked to the weather, in fact it is seen as the door of Winter: either we are still inside or we are outside. From the meteorological point of view it indicates the beginning of that short period of the year preceding the spring with mild temperatures and low rainfall.
There are many proverbs that popular tradition links to winter. There is one famous:
“When the Candlemas comes, we are out of winter, but if it rains or blows the wind of winter I go inside”.
This proverb indicates that if the days of Candlemas will have good weather, the beautiful season is now near. On the other hand, if on this day will be bad weather, then you will have to wait for several weeks for the winter to finish and spring to come.
There are numerous dialectal variants of the proverb, all to describe a crucial moment of winter, when both strong waves of frost and snow are possible, as well as predictions of the beautiful season. On the other hand, as another popular saying of the Lower Lazio states:
“Febbràr, gliù sol rà ogn vàr” (February, the sun enters through every window).
This day for the pagans was rich in magic and was often used to understand if someone had been hit by the evil eye. Three hairs in a basin of water, three drops of oil in the water and the suspected one had to touch the drops of oil. Depending on how the drops behaved, it was decided whether he had the evil eye or not.
The feast of Imbolc in the Celtic tradition (Imbolc, literally goat’s milk, with which sacred cheeses were made) marked the passage between winter and spring, that is between the moment of maximum darkness and cold and that of awakening of light .
In the Roman world the Goddess Februa (Juno) was celebrated at the beginning of February (in the Roman calendar the months followed the cycle of the moon). The first day of each month corresponded to the new moon (new moon) and was called “calende”, hence the name “calendar”.
Where Candlemas is celebrated in Italy
Acquaviva Collecroce and the Bacio (Kiss) del Bambinello
In Molise in Acquaviva Collecroce, from the early hours of dawn on February 2, the very ancient San Biagio Fair (celebrated on 3 February) begins. In the afternoon hours the population meets in church for the Eucharistic Celebration, the Blessing of Candles and the traditional Bacio del Bambinello.
Castelpoto and the kiss to Child Jesus
In Campania there is an ancient tradition in Castelpoto: from the Christmas night until the day of Candlemas, the Child Jesus is displayed in front of the high altar and then he is kissed the last time.
Montevergine and the priests of the Goddess Cybele
In Montevergine, a village of Mercogliano, every year thousands of faithful participate in the ascent to the Sanctuary, called Candlemas, giving life to a ritual rooted in that territory.
In this village the celebration is linked to two curious facts. The first is related to the Coribanti, priests of the goddess Cybele (the Black Mother), who climbed the “Monte di Virgilio” to offer as a gift their sexuality coming to be emasculated and then be reborn with a new identity.
The second fact, of 1256, sees the Madonna descend from heaven to help two homosexuals, chained to the top of the mountain and condemned to die of cold, warming them with her light.
In Sardinia, in Oristano, Candlemas is very much appreciated because it coincides with the beginning of the preparations of La Sartiglia. La Sartiglia is one of the oldest equestrian events that still take place in the Mediterranean area and one of the most spectacular forms of Carnival in Sardinia. It is a race to the star that takes place on the last Sunday and Tuesday of carnival in Oristano. The kermesse (fair) relates to agrarian regeneration rites. The origins of the this ride are found in the ancient military knightly tournaments and in the ring race that in Oristano consists in the attempt of the knights to hit the target hung on a green ribbon, challenging fate.
Castroreale and Catania and Ostentation
In Sicily in Castroreale, Candelora is celebrated with the singing of the praises of the Virgin, the blessing of candles, the procession of the eighteenth-century statue of the Mother, the celebration of the solemn Mass, the processional restitution of the simulacrum to the Church of Candelora and an important fair that since ancient times has attracted merchants and buyers from all the surrounding areas. In Catania, Candelora is absorbed by the Festa di Sant’Agata and is one of their most important rituals.
Rapolla and La Diana
In Basilicata, in Rapolla, as well as with the blessing of candles, Candlemas is celebrated with an event called “La Diana”.
This is a sort of night-time alarm clock with drums and bass drum to start a procession along the streets of the village to remember the devastation suffered by Galvano Lancia, a gentleman in the service of Manfredi in 1254. This procession is experienced as an event joyful that precedes the feast of the patron saint, San Biagio.
Among the other villages that celebrate Candelora and San Biagio, we can mention: Specchia and Martano in Puglia, Caramanico Terme and Fontecchio in Abruzzo, Cefalù and Salemi in Sicily.
Where Candlemas is Celebrated in Lazio
Frasso Sabino and the Madonna della Candelora
The appointment for the traditional Candlemas is particularly important to the inhabitants of Frasso Sabino. On February 2, 1703, a terrible earthquake struck Frasso: since then the Frassaroli associate their prayers to the Madonna alla Candelora in memory of the presentation of the Lord.
Castrocielo, the Festival of Light and the procession to Mount Asprano
In Castrocielo on February 2, for the tradition of the Candlemas day, in the afternoon hundreds of people walk in procession towards Mount Asprano to remember the tradition of Castrocielese.
They go to the top of the mountain for the Mass of the Feast of Light, during which the parish priest of Castrocielo and that of Colle San Magno bless the candles. Before, always according to the local tradition, they go around the small church of Santa Maria in Asprano and then is the holy mass. Many participate, not only coming from Castrocielo but also from the nearby Roccasecca and Colle San Magno.
Fiuggi and the Festival delle Stuzze
In Fiuggi the day of Candlemas is celebrated with the Festival of the Bonfires (Stuzze), unique in its kind with the Fiuggi Festival of the Patron San Biagio, a cultural event of popular religious tradition for over a decade.
The city of Fiuggi has always evoked through the Festa delle Stuzze, the so-called “Miracle of St. Biagio” which dates back to February 2, 1298. Every year, in fact, the evening of Candlemas, at the end of the religious procession, accompanied by the band, the ignition of the Capannoi starts. The Capannoi are wooden structures covered with branches of broom, made by the citizens of Fiuggi. Afterwards there is the fireworks show.
From February 2 to 3 the traditional San Biagio Fair takes place at Via Ernesta Besso and Piazza Trento e Trieste accompanied by the traditional popular games and concerts.