La Chandeleur: The Quirky French celebration of Candlemas

La Chandeleur: The Quirky French celebration of Candlemas

Candlemas is not one of the most widely recognized holidays, but if you like crêpes this is the day for you. Known in France as La Chandeleur, it is celebrated on February 2nd by gathering at friends’ homes and eating a ton of crêpes. A lot of crêpes.

Alright, it is not just about the food, although in France, it certainly seems like it. Over the years, it has lost a lot of its religious meaning, and is no longer celebrated as a public holiday.

The original day was linked to a celebration of pagan fertility before becoming a Christian holy day commemorating the presentation of Jesus Christ at the Temple.  It is traditionally the 40th day after the end of Christmas and 3 Kings Day (both also big occasions for French feasting), and right before Mardi Gras.

In some countries to remove their Christmas decorations the eve of 3 Kings day, but in other countries, it is on Candlemas.

The crêpes are said to relate to Pope Gelasius I in the 5th century, who had pancakes distributed to pilgrims arriving in Rome. Some believe that it dates to the earlier pagan ritual of the Vestal Virgins making offerings of cakes at the time of the Lupercalia fertility festival. But either, there is food involved!

Celebrating with Crepes

La Chandeleur is one of those French celebrations that is combined with another french tradition, the goûter. Otherwise known as the afternoon snack. French people usually gather around at someone’s house on the nearest Sunday afternoon, and watch the chef serve up crêpes.

If you’ve never made a crêpe before, not to worry, they are quite easy to make. Similar to pancakes, just add all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, and you have the base of a crêpe. (See full crêpe sucrée recipe here.) Once the crêpe is ready, guests are free to add whatever you want to it, such as nutella, jam, chocolate syrup etc.

For chandeleur, the crêpes served are usually sugary, but some hosts may prefer to serve savory crêpes that use buckwheat flour. Traditional toppings are ham, eggs and cheese, but you can use other ingredients like spinach, mushrooms, etc. (See recipe for crêpe salée here.)

Sugary or savory, the crêpes are usually served with large pitchers of cider.

Chandeleur superstitions

Now that we have the crêpes under our belt, it is time for some superstitions! Back in the day, candlelight processions were carried out to mark the Chandeleur. The Candlemas candle was to be brought back from the church to your home, while remaining lit. 

As the saying goes: “Celui qui la rapporte chez lui allumée, pour sûr ne mourra pas dans l’année.” 

“Whoever brings it home on fire, for sure will not die within a year.” 

With candlelight processions are rare these days, the superstitions have turned to crêpes:

French lyricsEnglish translation
La veille de la Chandeleur…
L’hiver se passe ou prend rigueur
Si tu sais bien tenir ta poêle
À toi l’argent en quantité
Mais gare à la mauvaise étoile
Si tu mets ta crêpe à côté.
The eve of Candlemas …
Winter is happening or getting harsh
If you know how to hold your pan
To you the money in quantity
But beware of the bad star
If you put your crêpe aside.

More recently, a newer superstition has emerged: you have to sauté the first crêpe in the pan with your right hand while holding a gold coin in your left hand. 

“Happiness, today, day of Candlemas, for those who eat pancakes with a gold coin in their fingers”.

The coin is then rolled in the pancake and placed in a cabinet for a year. At the end of the year, the coin is collected and given to a poor person. If the rite was respected, the family would experience long prosperity. 

Since we now live in the age of immediate satisfaction, a simple coin in the hand when flipping the pancake is enough to fulfill the superstition!

Weather Predictions

The other thing I should mention, is that Chandeleur is also the French equivalent of North American Groundhog day which is also on February 2. It doesn’t snow in much of France, but it does rain. A lot.

As the saying goes: “Quand il pleut pour la Chandeleur, il pleut pendant quarante jours. Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l’hiver est par derriere.”

“When it rains on Chandeleur, it will rain for 40 days. When it is clear on Chandeleur, the winter is behind us.”

As a bonus, no furry animals are harmed during the French weather predictions.

☞ READ MORE: 17 Things to do in Paris in Winter

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So will you be enjoying some crêpes this Candlemas? Comment below and let me know.

A bientôt!

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