Nick Butcher on Fiestas and Foods of Spain.
 La Candelaria and San Blas.



Virgen de la Candelaria TenerifeForty days after the birth of Christ, an important day arrived for his mother, the Virgin Mary. According to the religious customs of the time, a new mother was impure for a week after giving birth. If the child was a boy, she would then wait a further thirty-three days (much longer if it was a girl) before going to the Temple for the ritual of her purification and the presentation of the child.

Because of her family's poverty, Mary's offering to the Temple would have been just a couple of pigeons or turtle doves. Joseph would however, have had to pay five shekels to the priest - a first-born son was symbolically offered to God, then in effect ransomed back to the father.

On their visit to the Temple, the family met a man called Simeon, who had long prophesied that Jesus would be 'a light for revelation to the Gentiles', words that form part of his famous prayer, the Nunc dimittis. In recognition of this light, the day of the Purification of the Virgin, now more commonly called the Presentation of Our Lord, became associated with candles, hence another name for it, Candlemas and
in Spanish La Candelaria.

candelariaCatholic churches used to bless the year's supply of candles on this day, the 2nd February, and candlelit processions also mark the occasion in some places, in Tenerife, for example. Anyone with the name Purificación will celebrate her name day today.

The day is linked to some non-religious beliefs too. Hibernating animals, such as bears or wolves, will traditionally use this day, when spring is not too far off, to emerge from their lairs to check out the weather, as will a certain rodent in the USA, giving its name to Groundhog Day.

If these animals find that the weather is fine, it is considered a bad omen for the weather later on.

The next day, that of Saint Blaise, or San Blas in Spanish, also has a meteorological significance, because sailors who regularly use the waters off Spain's northern coasts pay special attention to the winds on this day. The direction of the wind in the last hour of the day will, they say, be the dominant direction they can expect throughout the year.

San BlasBlaise was another contemporary of San Antón and San Sebastián. The legends about him tell us little except that he was an expert doctor of Armenian origin as well as being a bishop, and that he once cured a child who was choking to death on a fish bone.

His fame for curing disease spread even to the animal kingdom, and herds of wild animals supposedly flocked to him for his care. He fell victim to the persecution of Christians, however, and was cruelly beaten with wool combs before being beheaded in the year 316.

Blaise is remembered also as one of the fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints whose intercession was thought to be particulary useful against various diseases, his speciality being those of the throat.

On his day, the 3rd February, two crossed candles are used in churches to bless the throats of the faithful, and in Nerja you will see people carrying loaves of bread into Mass, because bread that has been blessed on this day will, once it has been eaten, supposedly ward off throat infection. Which is worth knowing if, like me, you sing in a choir.

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