SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

CULTURE

La Chandeleur: The day the French get superstitious and go crazy over crepes

Find out how and why February 2nd can be the most crêpe-themed day of your life in France.

La Chandeleur: The day the French get superstitious and go crazy over crepes
It's the French pancake day. Photos: AFP

Coins on crêpes, flipping crêpes, and crêpes on top of the wardrobe. 

That’s what you can expect to see on Wednesday, February 2nd, as the French 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.

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 savoury crêpe) to poor pilgrims who arrived in Rome that day.

And how about the Chandeleur superstitions?

Well, in France’s Franche-Comté region, 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 department 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.

People often invite friends and family round for crêpes, but if you don’t want to share your crêpes you could always claim that you’re sticking to social distancing rules.

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“, and “Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l’hiver est par derriere“, and “Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte“.

Member comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FRANCE EXPLAINED

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France’s strangest festivals

From pig-squealing competitions to men in bear suits, these are some of France's most bizarre traditional festivals.

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France's strangest festivals

France is home to hundreds of festivals every year, from small local celebrations to internationally renowned events such as the Strasbourg Christmas market, Nice Carnival and the Lyon Fête des lumières. But there are other festivals that are, frankly, a bit strange.

Here are France’s 9 strangest festivals;

Fête du Citron

When life gives you lemons…create a festival involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit and invite about 230,000 visitors annually? That is pretty much what Menton, a town on the French Riviera did in 1928 when a hotelier in the region wished to increase tourism. Known for its delicious lemons, Menton has grown the fruit since the 1500s and shipped them all over the world.

The hotelier’s idea, which came into fruition in 1934 ended up becoming a world recognised three-week festival, where the city and its garden show off giant sculptures – some over 10 metres in height – made of lemons and oranges, amid parades, shows, concerts and art exhibits. 

Fête de l’Ours

Recently added to the UNESCO ‘intangible heritage’ list, the Bear Festival takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components: it involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans.

At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can become a person again.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

It is intended to be a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was practised in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

La Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig)

Every year the small village of Trie-sur-Baise in the Pyrenees hosts a unique festival dedicated to pigs. Throughout the celebration, you’ll see pigs in various forms – from piglets to pork and people in pig costumes. The Pourcailhade is known for one moment in particular: the pig squealing competition, where participants get on stage and attempt to give their best pig imitation. 

The festival first started in 1975, at the former home to Europe’s largest pig market, and it usually takes place in August, though the festival had a six-year pause and made its comeback in 2018.

There are also piglet races and competitions to see who has the best pig-costume, but the cri de cochon (pig squeal) contest is something to behold, as shown below.

The Underwear festival

Captain Underpants would fit right in to this village in the south of France, located the Lot département.

Started in 2016, this festival is meant to pay homage to a reporter who made the little town of Montcuq famous across France during a nationally televised segment in 1976. During the celebration, participants can compete with one another in games from sumo-wrestling to a race (in underwear).

The sausage and pickle festival

Andouillette might be one of the French foods that foreigners find least appealing, but its cousin, andouille, is perhaps a bit more appealing…though possibly not enough to join a contest for the fastest andouille and pickle eater.

READ MORE: Readers reveal: The worst food in France

Every August 15th, the village of Bèze, located in eastern France, hosts a festival celebrating the sausage. One key moment is the competition to see who can swallow one kilo and 200 grams of tripe as quickly as possible, all with their hands tied behind their backs. The festival also crowns a queen of andouille and a king of the pickles, and the proceeds go toward helping children with disabilities.

This is not the only andouille centred festival in France. Another one, the “Fête de l’Andouille” which takes place in northern France involves a very important step where the crowd tries to catch pieces of andouille thrown at them from a balcony.

Fêtes de Bayonne

Known as France’s wildest festival, the Fêtes de Bayonne are a five-day party celebrating Basque cultural identity, and they take place in Bayonne every summer. 

Starting in 1932, the Fêtes can be controversial because they have traditionally involved bull fighting, or corrida, which some French lawmakers have been working to outlaw.

READ MORE: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Aside from the bulls, the festival consists of lots of singing, dancing, sports competitions, traditional dress, and crowd-surfing. 

Festival-goers wear red and white outfits to symbolise the northern Spanish province of Pamplona, though some purists wear the colours of Bayonne: white and blue.

One of the most notable parts of the festival is the paquito chocolatero – a type of crowd-surfing where a person is passed over a chain of people sitting on the ground. The Fêtes de Bayonne have beaten the world record for the longest chain of people several times, most recently in 2022, a chain of 8,000 people passed one person over the crowd.

The Historic Ladle Festival

In practice since 1884, the Fête Historique des Louches, this tradition takes place in northern France in Comines. The legend goes that the Lord of the town was imprisoned in a high tower, and to show his people where he was being held, he apparently threw a wooden spoon with his coat of arms from the tower.

The festival, which takes place each October, has plenty of other activities, including a pageant, but the most noteworthy part is the parade where wooden spoons are hurled at the crowd. The goal is to walk away with the most ladles, proving to everyone that you truly deserve to live in the town of Comines.

The Gayant Festival

Close to the border with Belgium, the city of Douai in France’s north engages in a festival to celebrate three large statues, representing a giant family. Called the “Gayants” – they symbolise the city and according to folklore, they helped the villagers survive battles, invasions and wars over the centuries. The procession involves a parade where the giant statues are taken around the city.

This is another French festival that was registered in the “intangible cultural heritage” list with UNESCO, specifically under the category of “Giants and processional dragons of Belgium and France.”

Festival of the Unusual Taking place in Finistère, on France’s western coast, this festival has been going on for almost three decades.

Every July 14th, villagers come to demonstrate one of their “unusual talents,” whether that be throwing an egg or demonstrating how long they can peel an apple. One highlight of the festival is the race – where contestants try to go faster than one another on bed frames with rollers. Some contestants use the festival as a way to show their prowess in the Guinness Book of World Records – one village member broke the record in bending beer caps at the festival.

While France’s many festivals might seem a bit odd to foreigners, they still pale in comparison to some festivals taking place in the anglophone world, such as the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling event in the UK, where participants race down a 180 metre hill to try to catch the Gloucester cheese rolling down it. 

SHOW COMMENTS