The South Tyrolean farming year only begins at Candlemas. February 2nd sees the culmination of the celebrations surrounding Christmas.
According to the Old Testament, a woman was considered to be impure for forty days after giving birth.
And Mary too, after giving birth to Jesus, underwent forty days of purification. This is why the Christmas period comes to an end forty days from December 25th on February 2nd with Candlemas.
The old name of this Christian feast day is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For farmers, February 2nd traditionally sees the start of the cleaning period. The last Christmas treats are eaten, and the crib and Christmas tree are tidied away. The peasants begin their work again.
The name Candlemas comes from the blessing of the candles. To celebrate the birth of the light, candles are carried into the church as a symbol of the fire and the light. The candles are then blessed there. In addition to the blessing of the candles, other customs are celebrated in South Tyrol at Candlemas, such as the tradition of Wachsstoecklen and the Schlenggltog.
Blessed Candles for the Whole Year
The blessing of candles is still firmly rooted in South Tyrolean custom today. At Candlemas the entire stock of candles and wax for the entire year is blessed. The blessed candles are part of many occasions celebrated by South Tyroleans throughout the year. They are, for example, lit from the Easter candle at baptisms and first communions. Blessed candles are also said to protect against storms.
Wachsstoecklen as Lucky Charms
A wachsstoeckl, is a long thin candle that has been artistically rolled. After being blessed at Candlemas, they are supposed to protect against sickness and misfortune. Usually people would keep a hand-rolled wax candle as a lucky charm in their trouser pocket to ward off evil. The unrolled part was lit each time, for which reason they always had to be turned around and reassembled. Even today you can see the scorch marks of the wachsstoecklen on the prayer desks in the churches.
Holiday for the Servants: the “Schlenggltog”
In days gone by the servants and farmhands would change employment on Candlemas.
The servants would be paid their wages and then have a few days free. They were then able to “herumschlenggln” (loaf around) in the short period until 5th February.
Candlemas is therefore known by the farmers as the first “Schlenggltog”.
Traditionally the farmer’s wife would prepare a special meal for those servants who had committed to working on the farm for another year.
With the so-called “Tuernaegel” (door nails, also known as “Kniachiachl”), the maidservants and farmhands were symbolically “nailed down” on the farm.
“Door nails” are round, baked yeast doughnuts filled with cranberry jam.