Candlemas is an important occasion in many traditional ritual calenders including that of the Irish and Scots where the feast of Imbolc (Imbolg and the feast of St Brighit were alternative names) was celebrated as one of the 4 principle quarter days (Imbolc is actually the day before Candlemas but the former is often translated as the later). In medieval Christianity the feast marked the purification of Mary at the temple or the presentation of Christ as the temple and was also the time when special beeswax candles were blessed by priests for distribution to the faithful. The following day is St Blaise’s Feast (Or St Blazey Feast in Cornwall) where bonfires were commonly lit in most northern European cultures. In paganism practiced in the modern era”Imbolc” has become one of the major events of the year and certainly early Irish literature suggests very ancient origins indeed. Before the reformation Candlemas was also often seen as the last of the Christmas celebrations, a time to host feasts, pay rents , settle debts, and afterwards take down the greenery that had been on display since Christmas. It is in the guise that you find Candlemas in Cornwall. The most famous of these customs was the rent collection ritual at Godolphin House, an account of this occasion follows from “The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customsby T. Sharper Knowlson” in 1910.
‘This being Candlemas Day, the old Cornish manor house of Godolphin, now a farm-house, was visited, telegraphs our Penzance correspondent, by the reeve of the manor of Lamburne, who came to collect, with time-honoured ceremony, a rent-charge upon the estate. In the presence of a crowd of curious neighbours and sight-seers, the reeve knocked thrice upon the oaken door. “I come,” he cried, “to demand my lord’s just dues–eight groats and a penny, a loaf, a cheese, a collar of brawn, and a jack of the best beer in the house. God save the King and the lord of the manor.”When the doors were opened, the reeve and some forty guests sat down to breakfast together.”
An older account from 1883 says;
“On Candlemas Day (February 2nd), before sunrise, the reeve must appear at the outer door and give three distinct knocks, saying “Oh yes! Oh Yes! Oh Yes! Here comes I, the reeve of the Manor of Lamburne, to demand my Lord’s dues: three groats and a penny in money, a loaf, a cheese, a collar of brawn and a jug of the best beer in the house; God save the King and the Lord of the Manor.”
The Cornish Culture Association celebrates Candlemas in a way similar to that at Godolphin, with a twist. Because Candlemas is the end of traditional festive season we also consider it the end of the “guising” season. Our members and guests attend a “Candlemas Feast” dressed in Guise costume where we enact a somewhat similar ritual. This time the Lord of Misrule from the Montol festival collects his or her symbolic rent from the masters of the Penzance Guise Guilds. The rent in this case being “3 groats and a Penny, a collar of brawn, bread, a jack of beer and the finest cheeses known to man”. A “rough” feast of gammon (found as payment in other rent rituals in Cornwall). pea soup (eaten traditionally on Nickanan Night, a feast very close in date to Candlemas), hot bread, brawn (vegan brawn is also available!) and cheese then follows. The whole event is treated as a “Mock Civic Feast” very much in keeping with the history and traditions of Guise Dancing and ends with a set of bizarre toasts all topped up with Cornish festive drinks like mahogany (gin and black treacle) and shenagrum (hot dark beer, mixed with brown sugar, lemon and nutmeg).