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La Chandeleur: Why do the French eat crêpes on February 2nd?

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La Chandeleur: Why do the French eat crêpes on February 2nd?
Photo: Flickr/Jack Zalium
12:27 CET+01:00
It's La Chandeleur on Thursday! Here's what you need to know before you get your crepe on.

What is La Chandeleur?

It's a religious holiday in France that nowadays sees a lot of people eating a lot of crêpes.

Why crêpes?

Well there's a lot of history to this day - more on this later - but in short, it was a good way to use up the extra wheat ahead of the new harvest. And symbolically, it looks like a sun, so it was a reason to rejoice as the days started to get longer. 

Why February 2nd?

The date actually marks when Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem.

Before becoming a religious holiday, Chandeleur stemmed from several pagan traditions celebrating the fertility of the earth and the beginning of the end of winter. 

It's said that in the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I started the Festival des Chandelles on this date, a candlelit procession through the streets of Rome that culminated in placing the blessed candles in the churches. Gelasius linked this custom to crêpes by handing out galettes (a type of salty crêpe) to poor pilgrims who arrived in Rome that day.

Thanks for the history lesson. 

You're welcome. It's good to know the history, but nowadays the crepes themselves are the most important thing about La Chandeleur for many. 

Do the French do Crepe Tuesday too?

You mean for Shrove Tuesday? No, they don't. Shrove Tuesday, when many other people around the world are eating pancakes, is called Mardi Gras in France (or Fat Tuesday) and is more associated with eating fatty foods - traditionally ahead of the fasting that began on Ash Wednesday. 

 

So how do I take part? Cook up some crêpes for breakfast?

NO! You can't just whip up a batch of crêpes like you would on an ordinary day. Firstly, it's traditional to have them in the evening. And don't forget the superstitions. 

What are the superstitions?

It's recommended to toss the crêpe in the pan with your right hand while holding a piece of gold in your left - for good luck of course.

Another old tradition also saw people putting the first crêpe in a drawer or on top of a wardrobe to attract prosperity for the coming year.

There are so many traditions, in fact, that we've explained them all here - from candles and snow to coin flipping and ashes. 

Is that all the superstitions? 

Of course not, we haven't mentioned the weather yet - a crucial part of the day. 

Tradition says that a rainy day means another 40 days of rain. Indeed, you might hear the French say "Quand il pleut pour la Chandeleur, il pleut pendant quarante jours".

Other sayings suggest that a sunny day will bring more winter and misfortune, a clear day means winter is behind us, and a cloudy day means another 40 days of winter. 

These three all sound better in French, where they rhyme. Here they are in the same order:

"Soleil de la Chandeleur, annonce hiver et malheur", and "Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l'hiver est par derriere", and "Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte".
 
Now you're ready - good luck and happy creping!

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