Joyeuse Chandeleur ! Nope, that’s not a real greeting in french, I just made it up – but any day consecrated to the consumption of crêpes is worthy of one, in my humble opinion. And Chandeleur is exactly that.*
It falls on the 2nd February every year, 40 days after Christmas. The french name derives from “chandelle”, a word for candle; the festival is called “Candlemas” in English. Its origins are thought to be pagan, but Candlemas, also know as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, has been celebrated by the Christian Churchfor centuries. A handful of countries around the world – including Mexico, Guatemala and Luxembourg – hold their own festivities to mark the occasion and unsurprisingly, candles/light are common themes in many of these celebrations.
The connection with crêpes is more difficult to discern, and there is some disagreement** between my sources (see below – very conscientious of me, I know). It seems that this specific association is particular to France, Belgium and Swiss Romandy (the french-speaking part of Switzerland). Don’t quote me on that one though. Or any of this, actually. I can’t pretend to have done extensive research on this subject. I just wanted to write about a national crêpe day, okay?
On the Christian side of things, it’s thought that a 5th-century pope was in the habit of distributing pancakes to pilgrims arriving in Rome and that this may have given rise to the tradition. Meanwhile, apparently the pagan root of the festival is related to fertility of the earth; the crêpes were prepared using the surplus flour from the previous year’s harvest, and there appears to have been a superstitious element centering around prosperity for the coming year. One hypothesis suggests that because the shape (circular) and colour (golden) of crêpes recalled light and the sun, they therefore symbolised the return of sunshine after the dark, cold winter. Honestly, this seems a bit tenuous to me, but who am I to question centuries-old pagan traditions? Or, more to the point, any excuse to make and eat crêpes.
Various customs still thrive around this celebration in France today. For example, if the “chef” can flip his or her crêpe with one hand whilst holding a coin in the other, superstition dictates that the household will prosper for the year. I also just learned this afternoon that you’re not supposed to consume the crêpes before 8pm, although if you ask me, this seems like a completely arbitrary rule bordering on tyranny, and I think it should be disregarded altogether. Mostly because I had crêpes for breakfast this morning.
However, my personal favourite of all these customs, real or otherwise, is that, in order to either ensure an abundant harvest, or keep deprivation at bay (which I suppose amounted to the same thing for most people once upon a time), the first crêpe cooked ought to be kept in/on top of a wardrobe for the whole year. Apparently superstition keeps mould at bay, because the crêpe is supposed to remain unspoiled. I won’t be investigating for myself – although if any of you know someone who ACTUALLY does this, or ever has, please do tell me. I’m intrigued.
So there you go, a bit of dubiously reliable background on Chandeleur. The only thing I really know for certain is that most of my adopted country will be making and eating crêpes – or savoury buckwheat galettes – in abundance this evening. And I will most certainly be joining them. (Yes, I know I said I had them for breakfast, but that was a long time ago. I had vegetables for lunch, okay? Leave me alone.)
So for dinner, I’m planning two varieties of savoury crêpes: one featuring gruyère, ham and mushrooms, and one with burrata mozarella, sundried tomatoes and pesto. I haven’t gotten as far as dessert yet – but there will almost certainly be speculoos pâte à tartiner*** involved. Mmm.
What time is it?
* In popular culture, anyway
** …Or “there are some discrepancies”, perhaps… Geddit? Dis-crepe- Oh, never mind.
***Spread. Like for toast.
The boring bit Sources: