Going beyond Groundhog Day: 2 February marks the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, as well as “il giorno della Candelora,” or “Candlemas,” it marks 40 days following the birth of Christ on 25 December. It is one of Catholicism’s oldest feast days, with its first recorded dedicated mass dated to 312 CE.
Following the traditions proscribed by scripture as to the redemption of the first born as well as the ritualistic purification of the Virgin following childbirth, this episode became a frequent inclusion in painting as part of the larger narrative of Christ’s life. Over time, the day earned the alternate name of “Candlemas” as many priests began offering blessed candles following the day’s mass to their congregations as part of the day’s celebrations and as an allusion to Christ’s role as the “light of the world.”
Though religious in nature, the celebration of Candlemas is not wholly divested from the tradition of Groundhog’s day. Indeed, some Italian proverbs associated with the day reflect a similar heritage of weather prediction:
(If Candlemas is clear and bright, winter will have another bite. If Candlemas Day brings clouds and rain, winter is conte and will not come again.)
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Presentation in the Temple, 1342. Tempera on panel. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Pietro Cavallini, Presentation in the Temple, 1296-1300. Mosaic. Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome.
Vittore Carpaccio, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, 1510. Tempera on panel. Galleries dell’Accademia, Venice.