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In the Roman Catholic church, la fête de la chandeleur, Candlemass, is celebrated on 2 February . In France, la Chandeleur is another excuse to eat! The traditional French meal for la Chandeleur is crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m.
Candlemass is a Christian feast commemorating the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. Candlemass is the last festival in the Christian year that is dated by reference to Christmas; subsequent holidays are calculated with reference to Easter, so Candlemass marks the end of la saison de la Noël et l'epiphanie.
The term "Candlemass" (also spelled Candelmas) comes from the tradition set forth in the Roman Missal whereby the celebrant of the Mass on 2 February blesses the candles for use during the year (said candles must be of beeswax). The French name for the festival, chandeleur is derived from chandelle, one of several French words for "candle." (Other French words for "candle" are bougie, cierge and candela, the name varies according to the type and use of the candle.) The name fête chandeleur is also derived from the Latin " candelorum festum," which means festival of candles. (French vowels marked with the ˆ (circumflex) were once followed by an "s," and you can see that transition in the Latin "festus" becoming the French fête.)
The date of Candlemass is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes 40 days afterwards. Under Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a male child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemass therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law (see Leviticus 12:2 - 8), should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification. The gospel of Luke 2:22-39 relates that Mary was purified according to the religious law, followed by Jesus' presentation in the Jerusalem temple, and this explains the formal names given to the festival.
In the West, the date of Christmas is now fixed at 25 December; Candlemass therefore falls the following 2 February.
Saint Simeon welcomed Mary and Jesus and proclaimed that the baby was a "Light of the World". Since the seventh century the day has been celebrated by a procession of the faithful holding lit tapers. The candles are blessed and lit at the church and the participants carry the candle home. The legend is that if the candle arrives home without the flame dying the holder of the candle is assured a good harvest and prosperity for the rest of the year.
It is the custom to prepare and eat crêpes on 2 February and all through the Mardi Gras season. Why crêpes this particular day? It's a bit shrouded in mystery but many sources mention Pope Gélase I, who helped establish Chandeleur and whose custom it was to feed crêpes to the pilgrims who visited his church. The form and color of the crêpe also calls to mind the sun, which is returning after its winter sleep.