The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Candlemas Day

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 1, pp. 85-87

Candlemas Day. — (February 2). The name is evidently derived from the candles, which are then carried in procession; it is otherwise known as the Purification of the Virgin. The word "Purification " itself carries in its original meaning the idea of cleansing by fire or light, and hither, rather perhaps than to Jesus Christ being the Spiritual Light, we ought to refer the connection of candies with this festival. The idea of celebrating the Purification of the Virgin on the same day strikes us as being an aftergrowth or graft, and was a piece of questionable clerical diplomacy, since it was apparently inconsistent with the Immaculate Conception. Fosbrooke (British Monarchism, i., 28) says: "The candles at the Purification were an exchange for the lustration of the Pagans, and candles were used "from the parable of the wise virgins."— 'Alcuinus de divinis Officiis, p. 231. "This feast is called by the Greeks υπαπαντα, which signifies a meeting, because Simeon and Anna the prophetess met in the Temple at the presentation of our Saviour." L’Estrange’s "Alliance of Divine Offices," p. 147. See Luke ii. In the "Roman Calendar," I find the subsequent observations on the 2nd of February, usually called Candlemas Day:

"Torches are consecrated.
Torches are given away for many days."
"Feb. 2. "Purificatio Virginis
Faces consecrantur.
Faces dantur multis diebus."

"To beare their candels soberly, and to offer them to the Saintes, not of God’s makynge, but the carvers and paynters " is mentioned among the Roman Catholic customs censured by John Bale in his "Declaration of Bonners Articles," 1554, signat. D 4 b.; as is, Ibid. fol. 18 b. "to conjure candels." " There is a canon," says Bourne, "in the Council of Trullus, against those who baked a cake in honour of the Virgin’s lying-in, in which it is decreed, that no such ceremony should be observed, because she suffered no pollution, and therefore needed no purification." Pope Sergius, says Becon, in his "Reliques of Rome," 1563, commanded that all the people "shuld go on procession on Candlemas Day, and carry candels about with them brenning in their hands in the year of our Lord 684." How this candle-burning on Candlemas Day came first up, the author of the Festival declareth in this manner: " Sometyme," saith he, "when the Romaines by great myght and royal power, conquered all the world, they were so proude, that they forgat God, and made them divers gods after their own lust. And so among all they had a god that they called Mars, that had been tofore a notable knight in battayle; and so they prayed to hym for help, and for that they would speed the better of this knight, the people prayed and did great worship to his mother, that was called Februa, after which woman much people have opinion that the moneth February is called. Wherefore the second daie of thys moneth is Candlemass Day. The Romaines this night went about the city of Rome with torches and candles brenning in worship of this woman Februa, for hope to have the more helpe and succoure of her sonne Mars. Then there was a Pope that was called Sergius, and when he saw Christian people draw to this false maumetry and untrue belief he thought to undo this foule use and custom, and turn it onto Gods worship and our Ladys, and gave commandment that all Christian people should come to church and offer up a candle brennyng, in the worship that they did to this woman Februa, and do worship to our Lady and to her sonne our Lord Jesus Christ. So that now this feast is solemnly hallowed thorowe all Christendome. And every Christian man and woman of covenable age is bound to come to church and offer up their candles, as though they were bodily with our Lady hopyng for this reverence and worship, that they do to our Ladye, to have a great rewarde in Heaven." The Festyvall adds: "A candell is made of weke and wexe; so was Christ’s soule hyd within the manhode: also the fyre betokeneth the Godhede: also it betokeneth our Ladyes moderhede and maydenhede, lyght with the fyre of love."

In Dunstan’s "Concord of Monastic Rules" it is directed that, "on the Purification of the Virgin Mary the monks shall go in surplices to the Church for candles, which shall be consecrated, sprinkled with holy water, and censed by the Abbot. — Let every monk take a candle from the sacrist, and light it. Let a procession be made, thirds and Mass be celebrated, and the candles, after the offering, be offered to the priest." In some of the ancient illuminated calendars a woman holding a taper in each hand is represented in the month of February.

In a proclamation dated 26th of February, 30 Henry VIII., "concernyng Rites and Ceremonies to be used in due fourme in the Churche of England," we read as follows: "On Candlemas Daye it shall be declared, that the bearynge of candels is done in the memorie of Christe the spirituall lyghte, whom Simeon dyd prophecye as it is redde in the Churche that daye." The same had been declared by a decree of Convocation. Fuller’s "Church History," p. 222. We read in Woodde’s "Dialogue," cited more particularly under Palm Sunday, signat. d. 1, "Wherefore serveth holye candels? (Nicholas.) To light up in thunder, and to bless men when they lye a dying." See on this subject Duprè’s "Conformity between ancient and modern ceremonies," p. 96, and Stopford’s "Pagano-Papismus," p. 238.

Moresin gives us his conjecture on the use of the candle upon this occasion: "It was an Egyptian hieroglyphic for Life, meant to express here the ardent desire of having had the life of the deceased prolonged." Papatus, pp. 26-89. In the "Doctrine of the Masse Book," &c., 1554, signat. A 8, we find: "The hallowing of candles on Candlemas Day." The prayer. "O Lord Jesu Christ, + blesse thou this creature of a waxen taper at our humble supplication, and, by the vertue of the holy crosse, poure thou into it an heavenly benediction; that as thou hast graunted it unto mans use for the expelling of darknes, it may receave such a strength and blessing, thorow the token of thy holy crosse, that in what places soever it be lighted or set, the Divil may avoid out of these habitacions, and tremble for feare, and fly away discouraged, and presume no more to unquiete them that serve thee, who with God," &c. There follow other prayers, in which occur these passages: " We humbly beseech thee, that thou wilt vouchsafe to + to blesse and + sanctifie these candels, prepared unto the uses of men, and health of bodies and soules, as wel on the land as in the waters." "Vouchsafe + to blesse and sanctifye, and with the Candle of heavenly benediction, to lighten these tapers, which we thy servants taking in the honour of thy name (whan they are lighted) desire to beare, &c. "Here let the candles be sprinkled with holy water." Concluding with this rubrick: "When the halowyng of the candela is done, let the candels be lighted and distributed."

Queen Mary, when princess, was a scrupulous observer of the custom of offering tapers, &c., peculiar to this day, as repeated entries in her "Privy Purse Expenses" testify, and in Bishop Bonner’s "Injunctions," 1555, signat. A i. we read, "that bearyng of candels on Candlemasse Daie is doone in the memorie of our Saviour Jesu Christe, the spirituall lyght, of whom Sainst Symeon dyd prophecie as it is redde in the Church that day."

This ceremony, however, had been previously forbidden in the metropolis: for in Stowe’s "Chronicle," edit. 1631, p. 595, we read, "On the second of February, 1547-8, being the Feast of the Purification of our Lady, commonly called Candlemasse Day, the bearing of candles in the Church was left off throughout the whole citie of London," and, in fact, King Edward VI. had declared, by royal proclamation, that no man was to be subject to imprisonment for omitting the Popish ceremonies incidental to the day. At the end of Smart’s "Vanitie and Downefall of superstitious Popish ceremonies," 1628, I find, in "a briefe but true historicall Narration of some notorious Acts and Speeches of Mr. John Cosens" (Bishop of Durham) the following: "Fourthly, on Candlemass Day last past, Mr. Cozens in renuing that Popish ceremonie of burning candles to the honour of our Ladye, busied himself from two of the clocke in the afternoone till foure, in climbing long ladders to stick up wax candles in the said Cathedral Church: the number of all the candles burnt that evening was two hundred and twenty, besides sixteen torches: sixty of those burning tapers and torches standing upon and near the high altar (as he calls it), where no man came nigh." Herrick, in his "Hesperides," has two or three passages illustrating curiously enough the usages peculiar to this season. In the "Country Almanack" for 1676, under February, we read—

"Foul weather is no news; hail, rain, and snow
Are now expected, and esteemed no woe;
Nay, ‘tis an omen bad the yeomen say
If Phœbus1 shews his face the second day."

Martin, in his "Description of the Western Islands," mentions an ancient custom observed on the second of February: "The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women’s apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call a Briid’s Bed; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, " Briid is come, Briid is welcome." This they do just befcre going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Briid’s club there; which if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen." There is a proverb:

"If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
If on Candlemas day it be shower and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again."

Which appears to point to the deceptive character of a premature season. The heavy winds which visit us during February and March are sometimes called "Candlemas-eve winds." Hospinian’s account of this festival is remarkably brief; but as Naogeorgus in Googe’s paraphrase is a little more explicit, his account may be here inserted.

"Then comes the day wherein the Virgin offered Christ unto
The Father chiefe, as Moyses law commaunded hir to do.
Then numbers great of Tapers large, both men and women beare
To Church, being halowed there with pomp, and dreadful words to heare.
This done eche man his candell lightes where chiefest seemeth hee,
Whose taper greatest may be scene, and fortuuat to bee;
Whose candell hurneth cleare and bright a wondrous force and might
Doth in these candels lie, which if at any time they light,
They sure beleve that neyther storme or tempest dare abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard, nor any Devils spite,
Nor fearefull sprites that walke by night nor hurts of frost or haile."

Comp. Candles, God’s Sunday, and Wives’ Feast-Day.

Candlemas Bleese. — Colonel Alexander Fergusson writes in Notes and Queries:—" My father, sometime Governor and Captain General of the colony of Sierra Leone, was born about 1804. As a very small child he attended a parish school in the ‘Redgauntlet’ country, hard by the Solway. It was then the custom, as I have been informed, on Candlemas Day for every scholar to carry, as an offering to the schoolmaster, a gift of peats, varying in number according to the distance to be traversed and the strength of the pupil. This duty was known by the name of the "Candlemas bleeze, (i.e., blaze)." Any one acquainted with the incomparable nature of the peats from the Lochar Moss —that terror to English troops and sanctuary for Border reivers — cut from a jetty soil as black as ink and smooth and soft as butter, and, when dried in the sun, the thin slices approaching coal in hardness, will understand what a welcome addition to the master’s winter store of fuel was thus pleasantly provided. Probably this was about the last of an ancient custom; for in looking over many years ago, some old accounts of the expenses connected with my father’s education, there occurs an item of money paid to the schoolmaster "in lieu of the Candlemas bleeze." I have heard of a similar contribution being made to the parish schoolmaster in other parts of Scotland, where peat was not so common nor so good. it took the form of an offering of candles. I am sorry I can give no date for this latter instance of the survival of what was probably a custom dating from early Popish days." [Vol. 1, p. 85]

Editor's Note

1. Phœbus: That is, "Apollo": the sun. Source: Encyclopedia Mythica. From this we get, in the United States, Groundhog Day, which is also celebrated on February 2. In other parts of the world, the bear, hedgehog, badger, or other hibernating mammal gets the honor. Return

I regret that I am unable to provide a translation of any Latin or French passages.

See this note from William Hone's The Every Day Book: February 2 - Candlemas. See, also, Candlemas.

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