February 2 marks three distinct but related historical events in the life of the Holy Family, plus a yearly sacramental observance: the Presentation of the Lord (when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem for the first time), the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, Meeting of the Lord (when St. Simeon encountered the Holy Family in the temple), and Candlemas.
The American tradition of Groundhog Day is actually based on a Catholic Candlemas tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages, “If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, winter will have another bite. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”
Candlemas, or the blessing of the candles, is celebrated on February 2 of each year. The feast goes by this title because of the words of St. Simeon: “For my eyes have seen your salvation \ which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, \ a light for revelation to the Gentiles, \ and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2: 30-32). Jesus is the Light of the World, so on this day, the Church blesses candles for use throughout the year.
Traditionally, families would bring their own candles to be blessed on this day as well, for use in their own homes.
Candles used in church for the liturgy must contain at least 51 percent beeswax, and families are encouraged, but not obligated, to use the same in their homes when using candles as sacramentals.
In France, Candlemas is also known as “crepe day,” meant to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary, and the presentation of the baby Jesus. A perfect way to celebrate this day is to make savory crepes for family dinner with whole wheat flour and filling them with ham and cheese, followed by sweet crepes, made with white flour and topped with fruit, chocolate, and whipped cream.
In our current liturgical calendar, our focus is on the Presentation, but in previous eras, the Church highlighted the Purification. From the observance of the Purification of Mary came the tradition of “churching” women: the blessing of a woman forty days after childbirth, regardless of the outcome. The tradition was an acknowledgement of the difficulty of childbirth and new motherhood, and an official Church mandate for women to rest for six weeks after giving birth. The blessing of the mother now typically takes place as part of the baptism ceremony.