To someone who has only a passing knowledge of christian festivals, Candlemas sounds lovely and sounds as if it should be at Christmas; in fact it is celebrated on the second of February. It marks the occasion when baby Jesus was presented at the temple, but as with so many  Christian festivals it coincidences with other earlier celebration days. Imbolc, the Celtic spring festival and  Lupercalia celebrated by the Romans in mid-February to honour Lupercus who was their god of fertility and shepherds are two such festivals.

In France, Belgium and parts of Switzerland, apparently it is traditional to light candles and eat pancakes at Candlemas – well, that sounds like a good idea! This may have a long history, and may be one of those things left over from Lupercalia… this sounds a bit far-fetched to me! In Mexico  tamales are prepared and eaten, which apparently comes from Mexico’s pre-conquest past with  offerings of maize at this time as part of some ceremony.

I’m not sure in Britain we do anything very much – although some people take down their Christmas trees and decorations on this day. Robert Herrick who was born in 1591 and died in 1674, wrote a little rhyme:

“Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall.”

There is also another rhyme I have found, a weather related one:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again

A maritime superstition connected with it  is that setting sail at Candlemas is unlucky; well, given the type of weather typical in February it’s not surprising! Farmers too, looked to the weather, ‘A farmer should, on Candlemas Day, have half his corn and half his hay.’

I don’t think I will be going to sea anyway, I don’t have any hay or corn, but I may have pancakes!

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking has pancakes in its February recipes. As often, the recipe has a little introduction:

if carefully made, pancakes are particularly delicious. There is, however, no need to limit them to the one variety, for they can be modified in several ways.  The chief criticism that can be levelled against the homely English pancake is that it is invariably too thick, with the result that when cooked it is apt to be leathery. The following recipe can be relied upon to give successful results in every case.

  • 4 oz flour
  • 1 egg
  •  ½ pint milk
  • salt
  • butter or lard for frying
  1. sieve the flour and salt into a basin
  2. make a well in the centre and add the egg
  3. mix with the flour as smoothly as possible, gradually adding half the milk
  4. beat hard  to produce a perfectly smooth batter and introduce as much air as possible
  5. stir in the rest of the milk (the recipe doesn’t say, but I always leave my batter to rest, then beat again before cooking)
  6. heat a pan and add a very small amount of fat, barely greasing the surface, and allow to get REALLY hot
  7. pour in sufficient batter for the size of pancake you want
  8. turn or flip over when brown

Served straight from the pan with lemon and sugar, these pancakes are delicious

 

3 thoughts on “Candlemas

  1. Candlemas’ origins are poorly understood. Traditionally, it was an important day for the payment of rents and for labour contracts. Traditionally in England there were four quarter days as follows:
    • Lady Day (25 March);
    • Midsummer Day (24 June);
    • Michaelmas (29 September)
    • Christ-tide (25 December).
    However, parts of the far North of England seem to have followed the similar Scottish system which had different quarter days. These were ultimately based on Irish Celtic quarter days.
    • Candlemas (2 February);
    • Whit Sunday (for this purpose on 15 May by law);
    • Lammas (1 August);
    • Martinmas (11 November).

    Candlemas claimed to celebrate the purification of Mary after she had given birth as well as the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Many Protestants – especially Puritan leaning ones – would have preferred to have called it something else since the –mas(s) suffix was offensive. Many preferred to ignore it altogether. Whilst there are many other possibilities and the theory is generally ruled out by modern day scholars, Candlemas was once considered to be a survival of Lupercalia, the Roman or even pre-Roman festival in February named after the Roman God, Faunas (otherwise Lupercus) which acted as a spring cleansing festival. This interpretation has waned but it was believed for so long, it has coloured all thinking about Candlemas’ origins: it was thought to represent one deity searching for a daughter by night.

    In the North traditionally great importance was attached to both the weather on that day and any unexpected events that took place – especially if they had any associations with death. People lit candles made from pig fat in the NOrthern countryside.

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