Traditions - General Info Section
Candlemas Day - Chandeleur - Pancake Day
Chandeleur or Candlemas Day
Candlemas Day - Chandeleur is a liturgical festival.
People traditionally prepared French pancakes or crêpes on that day.
Chandeleur celebrates the anniversary of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
A fixed date event, it takes place 40 days after Christmas, on February 2.
Candlemas Day originated with the candlelight processions that took place on this festival.
The French word for candle is chandelle hence chandeleur.
Chandeleur is not an official holiday in France, but most French eat pancakes on that day.
As for most religious celebrations, the roots of the Chandeleur festival go back to the pagan era.
Candlemas Day's Greek and Roman origins
The Roman Candelabrum Festa was the celebration of Light and Proserpina, the Goddess of Light abducted by Pluto the God of the Underworld.
Proserpina had to spend the six months of autumn and winter alongside her husband as Queen of the Underworld.
She spent the remaining six months of the year on Earth, helping her mother Demeter, the Goddess of Agriculture and Harvest, to look after spring and summer.
During the Festa Candelarum, Romans lit candles at midnight as a symbol of purification in order to prepare for the Lupercalia.
This other major pagan festival took place on February 15 in order to celebrate Lupercus, the God of Fertility and Flocks.
The Church of Rome later replaced the Lupercalia by the celebration of St. Valentin or Valentine's Day.
Celtic origin and Cult of the Bear
Celts had a similar festival, Imbolc.
They celebrated on 1 February in honour of Birgit, their Goddess of Fertility and Purification.
Men walked through the fields with torches, while invoking the goddess to purify the land before they started sowing.
The Church of Rome replaced Birgit by Ste-Brigitte who is celebrated on February 1 on the calendar of saints.
Some other pagan nations celebrated the Cult of the Bear, when the animal came out of hibernation.
Chandelours - candle bear celebrated therefore the return of the light late January, early February.
The Church of Rome replaced all these pagan festivals by the Chandeleur (candlelight festival or Candlemas Day) during the 5th century.
It had great difficulty, though, to eradicate the Cult of the Bear festival, when bonfires and torch processions were accompanied by mock abductions of girls and fancy dress parties!
Christian Candlemas Day - Chandeleur
Christian priests blessed the candles whose light symbolized the light of Christ and therefore warded off evil.
Candles were then used as torches and taken back home in order to protect the hearth.
During the 14th century, Chandeleur - Candlemas Day became associated with purity and the Virgin.
For most of the Middle Ages, however, it remained still known as Chandelours in many regions of France.
Candlemas Day's crêpes - pancakes
Men have prepared wheat pancakes for time immemorial.
The French word for pancake is crêpe and comes from the Latin crispa - curled.
People traditionally prepared French pancakes or crêpes on Chandeleur day.
Pancakes' round shape is indeed a reminiscence of the sun, and therefore of the return of the daylight after the long winter months, the vital light allowing for the first sowing of the year.
Left-over flour had to be used in order to ensure a new beginning, a good harvest and by extension prosperity for the year to come.
As a result, pancake making on Candlemas Day generated many regional superstitions.
Pancakes had indeed be tossed and land flat in the pan in order to bring prosperity in the year to come.
In some regions, the first pancake was kept in the food safe for the whole season in order to ensure a good harvest.
It was obliviously a bad omen if they got moldy.
Finally, people ate their crêpes in the light of blessed candles!
Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Presentation of Jesus to the Temple Public Domain - Ste Birgid public domain