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La Chandeleur: The day the French get really superstitious... and eat crêpes

The Local France
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La Chandeleur: The day the French get really superstitious... and eat crêpes
It's the French pancake day. Photos: AFP

In France, February 2nd means eating lots of crêpes and really hoping it doesn't rain.

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On Friday, February 2nd, the French will dig out their non-stick frying pans to celebrate La Chandeleur.

I’ve never heard of it before. What exactly is La Chandeleur?

It's a religious holiday in France that’s been around since Roman times. Nowadays it mainly sees people eat a lot of crêpes, light candles and become very superstitious.

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Why February 2nd?

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

But before becoming a Christian 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 savoury crêpe) to poor pilgrims who arrived in Rome that day.

And how about the Chandeleur superstitions?

Well, in France’s Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region (in eastern France), a proverb says that if someone can carry a Chandeleur candle all the way home from church without it going out, then that person will "certainly stay alive this year".

A bit of a morbid superstition for a candle, you might think, but you've obviously not heard what the folks down in the Haute-Garonne département in the south west thought.

There, they said that if a candle's wax only dripped on one side of the candle during a religious procession, it announced the death of a loved-one during the year.

They also said that "bewitched" people could only be cured by a soothsayer using a blessed altar candle on the day of the Chandeleur. He would then draw various symbols on the ground, then mix soil from a graveyard with holy water, only to douse the floor with it together with a mix of poppy, fennel, and wild mustard.

Soothsaying is less popular than once it was.

I’ll stick to eating crêpes then.

There’s plenty of tradition surrounding the crêpe-making too, so if you want to do it the French way, listen up.

Firstly, it's traditional to have them in the evening. And don't forget 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.

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Are we done with superstitions?

Afraid 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"

"Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l'hiver est par derriere

"Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte".

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gillian.courtney55 2022/01/26 17:16
We lived for 20 years in Strasbourg but I only heard of the Chandeleur fête when we moved to Lyon. Clearly not an Alsatian fête!
[email protected] 2021/01/30 14:50
Obviously combinations of shrove Tuesday and St Swithins day
[email protected] 2021/01/29 19:18
Regarding the choice of February 2nd (Groundhog Day here in the U.S.), the Albanian language has two words for "winter," dividing the season in half. And the division point occurs February 2nd. The notion is obviously very old.

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