Candlemas Celebrations Around the World

Irish Transitions and Traditions

When Ireland was Christianized, veneration of the Pagan Goddess Brigid was transformed into that of St. Brigit, said to be the human daughter of a Druid. St. Brigit became a saint after her "death" and was supposedly converted and baptized by St. Patrick. Pagan lore was incorporated into the Christian traditions and legends associated with Her as a saint. For example, as St. Brigit, She had the power to appoint bishops and they had to be goldsmiths. She was associated with miracles and fertility. Into the 18th century a women's only shrine was kept to her in Kildare (meaning Church of the Oak) in Ireland. There, nineteen nuns tended her continually burning sacred flame. An ancient song was sung to Her: "Brigid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom." Brigid/St. Brigit was said to be the inventor of whistling and of keening.

In Ireland, this holy day is called Imbolc and begins at sunset on February 1 continuing through sunset February 2nd. There are several different derivations offered for the name Imbolc: from Ol-melc (ewe's milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time, from Im-bolg (around the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and from folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took place at this time. All of these explanations capture the themes of this festival.

To celebrate St. Brigid's day, people put out a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the Saint and an ear of corn for her white cow, offerings for the grain goddess like the loaf buried in the first furrow. A small quantity of special seeds are mixed with those to be sown. Wheat stalks are woven into X-shaped crosses to serve as charms to protect home from fire and lightning.

Scottish Practises

In the HIghlands, women dress the corn doll or last sheaf (from Lammas or the autumn equinox) in a bridal gown and put her in a basket, which is called the Bride's bed or Brigid's Bed. A wand, candle or other phallic object is laid across her and Bride is invited to come, for her bed is ready.

She is welcomed into the house with the saying, "Bride! Come in, the bed is made! Preserve the House for the Triple Goddess!" Another Scottish Gaelic Invocation runs as "May Brigit give blessing to the house that is here; Brigit, the fair and tender, Her hue like the cotton-grass, Rich-tressed maiden of ringlets of gold."

There was a Scottish Candlemas custom whereby children would bring money to buy candles for the schoolroom. Later this developed into gifts for the schoolmaster himself - the boy giving the largest gift being appointed Candlemas King. He reigned for six weeks with certain privileges including being able to remit punishments. In a mixed school a Candlemas Queen might also be appointed.

France and Canada

In France and Canada this day is known as La Fête de la Chandeleur. Traditionally crepes are eaten to insure a bountiful year. You can find recipes of crepes here.

Manger des crêpes à la chandeleur
apporte un an de bonheur.
"Eating crêpes the day of la Chandeleur will bring a year of happiness"


The corn spirit was represented in some places by the pig and records the relevance of the spirit at sowing time as well as at harvest; and for crops generally, not just corn. Thus at Candlemas in parts of Germany people would eat pea soup and dried pig ribs, the ribs afterwards being hung in the room till sowing time when they would be put into the sown field or in the seed-bag as a protection against earth-fleas and moles, and to cause the flax to grow well.


In England a specially large candle might be lit on Candlemas night and the family gather round it, feasting until it burned out.


Candlemas is the time for taking down, with suitable ceremony, the Yuletide greenery if it has not already been removed. On the Welsh borders, after the greenery was taken down a bowl of snowdrops might be brought in to give the house "the white purification" although snowdrops in the house at any other time were considered to bring bad luck. Snowdrops were also called Candlemas Bells or Purification Flowers.


In Spain it is known as La Candelaria. This is the celebration of the ritual purification of Mary, which, as required by Jewish law, took place forty days after the birth of her child. In towns all over Spain, parades, feasts, and general carousing honor the anniversary of the day Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth, in order to perform the required sacrifice of purification. Called "the feast of candles," the reference to light in La Candelaria is a reminder of the light of the baby Jesus. Wherever it's celebrated, Candelaria is a time of purification. And at its pagan roots, the day marks the middle of Winter and the promise of spring. But if you could visit all the towns in Spain today, you'd see the variety of ways it's celebrated around the country.

Start your journey in Madrid, whose celebration of La Candelaria is one of the most popular in the country. Clowns dressed as Andalusian farmers bring out "vaquillas" (young bulls), made of wooden frames with two horns. "Bullfighters" from Manila, dressed in multicolored silk pants, carry lassos and wear paper flowers and belts, and perform hilarious mock bullfights around town all day long. At the end of the day in the town plaza, the bull is "killed," and sangria is communally passed around, symbolizing the blood of the bull. Dancing, feasting, and horse races also occur in almost all nooks and crannies of Spain.

In Almonacid del Marquesado, La Endiablada (The Fiend) pays tribute to the Virgin Mary, and appears the following day when the feast of St Blaise is celebrated. This feast-day is structured in an unusual yet precise way. The cowbells ring out ceaselessly, becoming even more prominent once inside the church. Hundreds of "devils" dress in colorful outfits and jump and dance through the streets. The devils (children, youths, adults and old people) are present at the processions both for Candlemas and St Blaise, running and jumping and raising their arms whilst staring obsessively at the statues.


In USA the Groundhog day is celebrated on February 2nd. Click here for all that you wanted to know about the Ground Hog Day.


In China the Chinese New year is celebrated around the same time. Many of the rituals like annual cleaning and purification are similar to those of Candlemas. Click here for more resources.

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