Have you ever heard of La Chandeleur? After indulging in bûche de Noël during December and galette des rois in January, the French continue their food-themed celebrations through February with a day for eating crêpes.
Every year on 2 February, France marks La Chandeleur, commonly known as Candlemas in English. Although not a public holiday, it has become a cherished tradition across France to partake in eating crêpes (thin pancakes) on this day. Towards the end of January, the supermarket displays catch your eye with flour, eggs, jam, and Nutella, all signalling the upcoming Chandeleur festivities.
Where does La Chandeleur come from?
On 2 February, during the Candlemas celebration, we often think of pancakes as playing the leading role. However, historically, this day has been associated with candles. The name Candlemas is derived from the Latin term “festa candelarum,” which means “candlelight festival.”
For Christians, Candlemas marks the culmination of the Nativity cycle, following Christmas and Epiphany. It commemorates the presentation of baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem and Mary’s purification. According to Jewish tradition, presenting firstborns at the temple within 40 days of their birth was customary. Since Jesus was believed to be born on 25 December, Candlemas has been observed annually on 2 February.
Before Christians embraced Candlemas, pagan versions of this festival were already observed. In ancient Rome, Lupercalia, a purification festival, took place in mid-February, honouring the god of fertility. Romans would joyously parade through the streets with lit torches, symbolizing the end of winter and the return of light. The incorporation of these pagan rituals into Christian tradition occurred in the 5th century, guided by Pope Gelasius I. He abolished the pagan Lupercalia festival and replaced it with candlelight processions, symbolizing Jesus as the light of the world. During Candlemas, priests blessed the candles and urged the faithful to take them home for protection.
But why pancakes?
Various theories try to explain the reason for choosing pancakes as a symbol for Candlemas. Some suggest that pancakes, with their round and golden appearance, represent the sun and the lengthening days as winter yields to spring. Others believe it was Pope Gelasius who first bestowed pancakes upon pilgrims arriving in Rome as a token of appreciation for their journey to light a church candle.
Different regions in France have developed unique customs and superstitions associated with Chandeleur. One tradition involves flipping the first pancake in the air using the right hand while holding a coin in the left hand. If the pancake lands perfectly flat in the pan, it is believed to herald financial prosperity for the year ahead. Another custom involves placing the first pancake, folded over a coin, on top of a wardrobe or cupboard to attract good luck and bountiful harvests to the household. The previous year’s pancake is then discarded, and the coin is given to a beggar or someone in need.
Thankfully, crêpes are easy to make, and you won’t have trouble finding a recipe online if you don’t already have one. Whether you prefer sweet or savoury, feel free to create your own. In France, crêpes are typically served with sugar, chocolate sauce, salted caramel sauce or whipped / Chantilly cream.
If you’re searching for authentic crêpes in Paris, I highly recommend visiting Breizh Café. Known for its high-quality Breton-style buckwheat galettes and crêpes, the café now has several outlets across the city. More unusual flavour combinations, such as truffle galettes and yuzu suzette crêpes, are perfect with a glass of cidre (cider) from Britanny or Normandy. There are many different types of cider including Brut, Rosé, Doux and Demi-Sec, with an average alcohol content of 2 – 7%. Don’t be surprised if your cider is served in bowls or low cups with handles – this is how the Bretons drink it!