By Patrick O’Boyle, Esq.
A Pasca Epifania “tutt’e ffeste vanno via”. Risponne ‘a Cannelora : “No, ce stongo io ancora” – (Easter said to Epiphany, “Now all the holidays are gone,” and Candlemas spoke up and said, “I’m still here!”) – Old Neapolitan saying.
In Italy, February 2nd is traditionally the feast of Candelora, a day which received its name since preceding Mass on this former holy day of obligation, there is the traditional blessing and procession of beeswax candles for the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day which celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple forty days after Christmas.
The special blessing of candles on this day was the cause of the feast being named Candlemas in Medieval England, the name by which this special day is known in the Anglophonic world. For centuries it was considered the final day of the Christmas Season.
In some parts of Europe, Candlemas remains a public holiday with schools, offices and businesses closed. Many Candlemas traditions such as crepes in France, special cakes in Italy and the forecasting of winter’s end in Germany continue to this day. Candlemas is the origin of the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition known as Groundhog’s Day.
In the region of Campania, in Naples and on the Sorrento Peninsula, where once the streets were ablaze in candlelight on this feast day, its gastronomic roots survive in a sweet dessert called migliaccio. Migliaccio is a type of pudding made with semolina flour, eggs, milk and butter in the towns of the Sorrento peninsula, baked in the oven and served dusted with powdered sugar.
In Naples, the same recipe is used with the addition of ricotta which in this variety makes migliaccio much like the filling of the world famous sfogliatelle. Besides being known as a dessert for Candelora, migliaccio, called in Neapolitan, “Mugliaccio,” was an opportunity to use up the dairy and eggs that would soon become prohibited during Lent which always follow Candelora, hence the dessert became known as a dish typical in a way of Carnevale.
Just like the Germanic custom of the Ground Hog, Neapolitans as well think of the day of Candelora as a harbinger of spring. Cannelora , ‘state dinto, vierno fora – (“On Candlemas the summer comes in and the winter goes out”).