Candlemas and the “Schlenkerltag”
In the past, the Christmas season ended on 2 February. On this day the Catholics removed and cleared the nativity scenes and the Christmas trees. From the modern daily life the celebration has almost disappeared.
Until 1969 this day was called “Mary’s Devine Purification” in the Catholic Church. According to the rules and customs of the time, a woman was considered unclean 40 days after giving birth to a child and had to bring a purification offering at the temple 40 days after the childbirth. The sacrifice was usually a pair of lovebirds. Since Jesus was the first-born son considered the property of God. So he too was “represented” and ” released” by his parents in the temple before God. This is why Mary’s Candlemas is also called the “Feast of the Presentation of the Lord”.
Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus, met there the aged Simeon and the 84-year-old prophetess Hannah, who recognized and praised the child as Messiah (The Anointed One). Hannah confirmed the prophetic speech of Simeon, who trusted that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Even today, the following is read out in the service on that day: The old man sang the praises of the child and praised him as the Messiah: “For mine eyes have seen thy Saviour whom thou hast prepared before all nations, a light that illuminates the Gentiles, and glory to thy people Israel”.
Hannah had a difficult life behind her. Seven years after her marriage she became a widow. For a childless and widowed woman it was difficult to find a place in society at that time. So from that time on she was dependent on the support of the community. Hannah decided to live a life of fasting and praying in the temple.
Since the liturgical reform of 1970, the Christmas season in the Catholic Church ends on the Sunday after Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6th. Since 1997, February 2 is also considered in the Catholic Church as the “Day of Consecrated Life”, a day of thanksgiving and petition for those who place themselves entirely at the disposal of God.
Until 1912, for example, 2 February was a public holiday in Bavaria.
February 2, was also of great importance in the peasant year and was considered the date for payment and interest. On this day the maids and farmhands could sign up with their employer anew or change their employer or farm. The employer was informed that he wanted to change to Martini (11 November) at Candlemas. The salary, in the form of money or in kind, was paid on 2 February. Usually it was the only day of the year when the wage was paid out. Often the maids received a new smock and the servants a pair of new shoes. The service book was also returned to the employee. It often read: “Till Candlemas has served faithfully.”
The servants often had to part with their small livestock (such as chickens, pigeons or rabbits) when they changed, because not every farmer allowed his servants to keep them. Consequently, many animals were sold at animal markets on this date. In the Upper Austrian town of Wels the Glanglmarkt (glangln is a dialect word, meaning to move around) still takes place today. It is Austria’s largest small animal market with more than 10,000 animals and is visited every year by numerous visitors and buyers.
The new service and the new peasant work year started on the day of St. Agatha, February 5th. The days in between were called “Schlenkerltag” or “Schlenkerlweil”. Celebrations were held and family visits were made until the new service began.
On the occasion of the Candlemas, the consecration of candles and wax is also celebrated in the Catholic Church. The candles for the consecration often used to have certain colours: besides the everyday candles, the soul candles for lighting for the deceased were coloured, the weather candles as protection against approaching storms and thunderstorms were black and the rosary candles used for praying the rosary were yellow. Symbolically, the feast and the associated procession of lights was also a sign that the days were getting longer. The vernacular draws a bow from St. Martin’s Day on November 11 to Candlemas: “Martin light the light; Mary blows it out again.”
The festival was probably taken over, as well as the procession of lights – from the Orient.