Pagan origins of Candlemas
Two pagan festivals historically took place at the beginning of February – the Celtic festival of Imbolc, on the 1st, and the Roman Lupercalia, on the 15th – to celebrate the end of winter. It was the time to purify the herds and fields before sowing, to ensure fertility and prosperity.
The peasants roamed the fields with torches and made pancakes with the leftover flour from the reserves. Through its shape and color, the crepe evoked the Sun, finally back after winter.
A traditional Jewish rite… which has become a Christian holiday
According to the Old Testament, Jewish women were considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth. They then had to mark their return to the Temple with the sacrifice of a pair of turtle doves.
To thank God for saving them from slavery in Egypt, each couple was also required to present their first-born male child to the Temple.
According to Saint Luke, Joseph and Mary therefore went to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after the birth of Jesus. There, two very old believers, Simeon and Anne, recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Simeon called him “a light to enlighten the nations.”
The feast of the “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” was gradually introduced into the Christian liturgical calendar. It was celebrated in Jerusalem as early as 386.
From 450, the festival was accompanied by candle processions. It then appears in Rome in the second half of the 7th century.
Candlemas is celebrated forty days after Christmas, on February 2. It celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. This celebration closes the Christmas season. So, it is tradition to remove the crib on this day and enjoy pancakes.
Why do you eat pancakes on Candlemas?
To answer this question, we must go back to the pontificate of Pope Saint Gelasius I, at the end of the 5th century. At the time, many pilgrims went to Rome every February 2 to celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
Now, one day, pilgrims from Jerusalem arrived in the Eternal City totally exhausted and hungry. Pope Gelasius, whose generosity towards the poor was great, learned of this: he then asked that round pancakes be immediately made for them to satisfy their hunger. Over time, the use has been perpetuated and spread among families, to the delight of young and old alike who can therefore send a warm thank you to the good Pope Gelasius!