(2 February)
   This is the English name for a religious festival, the last of the Christmas cycle, which celebrates the Purification (i.e. the *churching) of the Virgin Mary 40 days after the birth of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish custom. It necessarily falls on 2 February, the fortieth day after 25 December. It began in Byzantium in the 4th century, and was established in Rome by the 7th century; it has no connection with the Irish feast of Imbolc on 1 February.
   Candlemas was important in the medieval Catholic calendar; each parishioner attended Mass and joined a procession, bringing a *can-dle as an offering to the church. Other candles were blessed and then taken home, to be kept as protection against *thunderstorms, demons, and sickness, and lit by the beds of the dying. Elaborate processions and liturgical dramas were devised, using candles to symbolize Christ, the Light of the World; at Beverley (Yorkshire), a woman 'nobly dressed and adorned as the Queen of Heaven' carried a doll representing the Infant Jesus, while other parishioners represented Joseph, Simeon, Anna, and angels, the latter carrying 24 large candles. These rites were suppressed after the Reformation, but in Dorset and Nottinghamshire there are occasional 19th-century references to people lighting candles in their own homes on this day, or exchanging them as gifts.
   In the 17th century, the Eve of Candlemas marked the end of the Christmas season.
   *Herrick wrote three poems on the topic, noting that sports and dainty foods were at an end, the remains of the *Yule Log quenched and set aside till the next year, and all decorative greenery removed.
   ■ Duffy, 1992: 15-22; Hutton, 1996: 139-43.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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