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2 February, the Candlemas Festival

Tuesday 30 january 2018

The ancient celebration of the purification of candles, its origin, its proverbs and the villages where to live it

2 February, the Candlemas Festival

According to Jewish tradition, every firstborn was considered offered to the Lord and it was necessary that the parents redeem him by offering a sacrifice, 40 days after birth, at the temple. According to the same tradition, a woman was considered impure of menstrual blood after delivery. If the woman had given birth to a female, this period lasted for 66 days, but if she had given birth to a male, the impurity period lasted 40 days.

At the time of Jesus, the day of the Presentation at the Temple and that of the purification of the mother fell then, simultaneously, 40 days after his birth, as "documented" by the Gospel according to Luke, thus giving life to this celebration.

Formerly this festival fell on February 14th, that is 40 days after the Epiphany, and its name (Candelora - Candelmas) derives from the pagan festival of the Lupercalas, during which great ritual torch-litings were held. The similarity between the pagan and Christian holidays is not only in the use of candles but also in the idea of ​​purification, in fact, both in the case of the purification of Mary, both in the ransom of Jesus, and in the Lupercal rites, the true the protagonist is the purification, or blessing, of candles, before turning them on and taking them in a procession.

It was Pope Gelasio (492-496) who obtained from the Senate the abolition of the pagan rituals of the Lupercal, which were replaced in full by the Christian Candlemas, while it was Justinian, in the sixth century, to anticipate the rite from 14 to 2 February, 40 days after Christmas.

With the passing of the centuries the celebration of Candlemas has taken a liturgical aspect of Marian making the figure of the purification of Mary prevail over the redemption of the firstborn, while, according to the liturgical reform, the feast is centered on the figure of Christ as the firstborn of the Father.

After Candlemas, the faithful kept the candles as a sign of propitiatory or Christian devotion. In fact, the celebration of Candlemas ends the following day, February 3, the day of the celebration of the memory of San Biagio, during which, in some places, the blessing of the throat with blessed candles is performed the day before. This fact seems to be attributed to a miracle performed by the saint according to which he would have saved a child from suffocation, who had ingested a fishbone.

The Candlemas Festival, and its temporal location at a particular time of winter, has given rise to a series of proverbs linked to the climate and the ability, of the day of February 2, to predict the end of winter. One of the most famous is:

Per la santa Candelora, se nevica o se plora, dell'inverno siamo fora; ma se l'è sole o solicello siamo sempre a mezzo inverno.
(For the holy Candlemas, if it snows or if it plows, of winter we are out; but if it is sunny we are always in the middle of winter.)

Another proverb among the most popular is related to wine:

Se per la Candelora il tempo è bello molto più vino avremo che vinello.
(If for Candlemas the weather is good, much more wine we will have than lite wine.)

A Romagnolo proverb underlines the fact that Canderola is also 40 days between Christmas and mid-March, making it possible that after the anniversary there could be another 40 days of bad weather:

Se piôv par Zariôla, quaranta dè l'inveran in z'arnôva.
(If it rains for Candlemas, are renewed forty days in winter)

In Salento, one of the proverbs linked to this feast, anticipates the coming of Easter:

De la Candelora, ogni aceddu fa la cova
(From the Candlemas every bird hatches) 

In proverbs of other regions refer to wild animals as symbolic protagonists to underline the concept that, in a moment of greatest frost, dormant elements can awake, as a rebirth of nature and spirit. It is no coincidence that the term "February" derives from the Latin "februus" (purifying). In fact, a Piedmontese proverb states:

Se l'ors a la Siriola la paia al fa soà, ant l'invern tornom a antrà
(If the bear in the Candlemas makes the straw (the bed) jump, it returns to the winter) 

At Acquaviva Collecroce (Campobasso), from the dawn of February 2, the San Biagio Fair begins, during which, in the afternoon hours, the population meets in church for the Blessing of Candles and the traditional Bacio del Bambinello. Here too we find a proverb linked to this event:

Uoj è la Candelora, la vernata è sciut fora, risponn san Bias la vernat ancor n'trasc. Se fa lu solariell quaranta juor d maltiemb, se fa lu solaron quaranta juorn d stagion 
(Today is Candlemas, winter has come out, San Biagio answers, winter still does not enter. If there is little sun forty days of bad weather, if there is so much sun forty days in season and then days quite hot)

In Montevergine (fraction of Mercogliano, Avellino) every year thousands of faithful participate in the ascent to the Sanctuary, called Candlemas, giving life to a ritual rooted in the territory. In this village the celebration is linked to two curious facts. The first is related to the Coribanti, priests of the goddess Cybele (the Black Mother), who climbed the "Monte di Virgilio" to offer as a gift their sex coming to emasculate and then reborn with a new identity. The second fact, dated in 1256, sees the Madonna descend from heaven to help two homosexuals, chained on top of the mountain and condemned to die of cold, warming them with her light.

In Castroreale (Messina), Candlemas is celebrated with the singing of the praises of the Virgin, the blessing of candles, the procession of the eighteenth-century statue of the Mother Church, the celebration of the solemn Mass, the processional restitution of the simulacrum to the Church of Candelora and an important fair that since ancient times attracts merchants and buyers from all the neighboring areas.

In Rapolla (Potenza), as well as with the blessing of candles, Candlemas is celebrated with an event called "La Diana", or a sort of night-time alarm with drum roll and bass drum to kick off a procession along the streets of the village to remember the devastation suffered by Galvano Lancia, a gentleman at the service of Manfredi in 1254. This procession is experienced as a joyous event that precedes the feast of the patron saint, San Biagio.

Among the other villages that celebrate the Candelora and San Biagio, we can mention, Specchia and Martano (Lecce), Caramanico Terme (Pesaro), Cefalù (Palermo), Fontecchio (L'Aquila) and Salemi (Trapani).

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