I don’t know how I missed this, but, in a conversation about traditions a friend said that, every year, she makes crêpes for Chandeleur.
Intrigued, I asked about the holiday. They told me it is not religious, happens ‘sometime in February’ and involves crêpes. The story I got was that they cook and eat crêpes and always play a special game while cooking them. Each member of the family (including children) holds a crêpe pan in one hand and some money in the other hand. Then, they have to perfectly flip the crêpe over in the air. If it lands on the pan they will be fortunate for the next year. If not, poverty awaits. (That’s a lot of pressure for an inexperienced crêpe maker such as myself or a child, dontcha think?).
Wow! I thought this was it! The French, non secular holiday everyone can embrace – kind of like Halloween?
That was, of course, until I started researching. There is good news and bad news about Chandeleur. The good news is that it is celebrated on February 2nd. Not only is this Groundhog Day – it is my very own birthday. A new tradition of crêpes on my birthday doesn’t sound like a bad idea. The bad news is that it, in fact, is a tradition coming from Christianity, known in English as Candlemas. (I don’t know why the French seem to think all these holiday have nothing to do with religion!)
“The Catholic holiday of Candlemas, on 2 February, is a feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus. In France, this holiday is called la Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière,* or jour des crêpes.”
If you, over there in America, don’t have a crêpe pan, never fear! You too, can celebrate Chandeleur. Just make a stack of crêpes and toss them at plates for a catch. It’s like permission for a food fight. No, I’m not kidding, full details here.
So, how did the “custom of lighting candles at midnight as a symbol of purification”, turn into a crêpe tossing contest? Turns out that “Pope Gelasius distributed crêpes to the pilgrims who came to Rome.” (That would be a good idea to win the hearts and minds of the people, right?) Another theory is “that the crêpes, by their round shape and golden color, recall the solar disc, referring to the return of spring after the winter dark and cold.” Of course, that is going back to the pagan roots of this holiday – when it was used to celebrate the beginning of the days getting longer again – the returning of the sun to the earth.
Wikipedia also claims, besides the tossing of the crêpes with money in your hand, it is a tradition to: “keep the first made crêpe in the top of an armoire to ensure the next harvest will be abundant.” Seems that as long as that crêpe does not rot away – you will not face deprivation. Sounds kind of gross, if you ask me.
Happy Belated Chandeleur, everyone! I’m looking forward to celebrating next year. (Hmm… that gives me about 9 months to practice my flipping)