February 2 is a day rooted in different traditions all over the world. It’s a day for many that determine the outlook for the upcoming year. Americans look forward to February 2 every year to see if winter will be extended or determine if spring is on the way. Certain religions celebrate this day as the return of light and longer days. In France, there is a slightly different take on February 2. This French holiday known as Chandeleur, a day to feast on crepes!
Crepes are delicious, thin pancakes that can be sweet or savory. They can be rolled, folded into quarters, or stacked high on top of each other. Take your pick; any way you choose will be delicious. The options for toppings or fillings are seemingly endless. For a sweet crepe, try one with sugar and lemon or fruit and Nutella. For a savory crepe, try one with breakfast filled with bacon and eggs. I’m a huge fan of crepes and typically will order one with Nutella and Oreos.
There are two spots that I instantly think of when I hear about crepes. And no, they aren’t in France! When I was an undergrad at the University of Georgia, a local restaurant Pauley’s, served the best buffalo chicken crepe. My mouth waters just thinking about it! When I lived in Colorado, a crepe stand in Breckenridge called Crepes à la Cart was my go-to. There was always a long line of people waiting to order fresh, hot crepes. After a long day of skiing on the mountain, it was a wonderful, warm treat! I seriously look forward to having crepes at both of these places again one day. A crepe in France will have to do, for now.
One benefit of being an expat is learning new traditions and cultural norms. Today we will explore Chandeleur, the French day of crepes. But to understand Chandeleur, we have to first understand the Christian holiday Candlemas. While we are at it, let’s explore the origins of Groundhog Day too to see how these holidays all tie together. Let’s break it down.
What is Candlemas?
Candlemas is a Christian holiday and is the traditional celebration of the presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph in the temple. This event happens forty days after Jesus’ birth, as Mary had to exclude herself from public worship for forty days after giving birth. Candlemas is primarily a Catholic holiday, but the world now celebrates Candlemas in multiple different ways. Some religions use this event to bless all the candles in a church for the upcoming year. Other religions use the candles to determine how long or short winter would be. And a few celebrate Candlemas as the return of light.
What is Groundhog Day?
Groundhog Day‘s origins begin on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. We all know the drill. If the groundhog does not see its shadow, spring is on the way. If the groundhog sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. I think we can all agree that we hope the groundhog never sees its shadow.
However, this unique tradition did not start in Pennsylvania; it has Germanic origins. In the beginning, Germans used a bear as their weather-predicting animal. Since bears were scarce in the area, they later chose to use a badger instead. There’s an old German proverb that says, “If Candlemas is fair and clear, there will be more winters in the year.” If the weather was sunny and clear on Candlemas and the badger saw its shadow, they expected winter to continue.
When Germans were settling in the United States, they continued this tradition but used a groundhog instead. And that’s how the origins of Groundhog Day as we know it started.
What is Chandeleur?
Think of Chandeleur as a mix of Candlemas, Groundhog Day, and an ancient pagan celebration. It’s transformed to be less of a religious holiday in France and a time-tested celebration where everyone can participate.
Before Candlemas existed, pagans celebrated this day as the end of winter and fertility of the earth. Days start to get longer as Chandeleur marks the midpoint between the shortest day of winter and the spring equinox.
The French have many different sayings for Chandeleur and are similar to our Groundhog Day predictions. Here’s one of the most common ones.
“À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur,
À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux heures,
Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte,
Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure.”
Chandeleur proverb in French
“On Candlemas, winter ends or regains speed,
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours,
If Candlemas is covered (by snow), forty days are lost by winter,
If there is dew on Candlemas, winter is at its last hour.”
My attempt to translate the Chandeleur proverb to English
But why eat crepes on Chandeleur?
There’s a lot of theories as to why the French eat crepes on Chandeleur. Many attribute the tradition of eating crepes on Chandeleur when Pope Gelasius the 1st distributed crepes to pilgrims when they arrived in Rome. Others think the round crepe is symbolic of the sun and the long days that would soon come. And some thought crepes were an excellent way to use any extra wheat available before the next harvest. In the end, I think most people are just excited to eat crepes. Wouldn’t you be?
Superstitions on Chandeleur vary by region in France. Let’s hear them.
- Haute-Garonne: This superstition has religious origins. During a religious procession, if a lit candle only had wax drip on one side of the candle, they could expect the death of a loved one within the year. I’ll pass on trying this one.
- Franche-Comté: This one also has religious origins. If someone carries a candle home from the church without it going out, they will stay alive for the next year. Again, no reason to try this one. I don’t think anyone needs unnecessary anxiety because a lit candle went out.
- Throughout France: This one has origins of good luck. While making crepes, toss the crêpe in the pan with the right hand while holding a gold coin in the left. If someone can flip the crepe without it dropping, they will have good luck for the next year. Ok, this one we will try.
- Throughout France: This one has origins of prosperity. Some people believe that they should put the first crepe in a closet to attract wealth for the next year. We don’t need to draw any unnecessary animals in our apartment. We will skip this one too.
how we celebrated chandeleur
Naturally, I was curious about this day and told Jordan we should get in on the tradition. Any excuse to eat crepes is a good day. Jordan grew up eating crepes and had a wonderful recipe from his mom that we used.
The French typically eat crepes at dinner on Chandeleur, but Jordan isn’t a big fan of breakfast foods for dinner. We compromised and made our crepes for lunch instead. The batter has to rest for about an hour, so we prepped it and went on our daily walk at noon. We cut our walk a little shorter than usual to have time to make them before starting back to work (and because the river by our house was flooded and blocked our trail!).
We planned to keep our crepes simple and ate them with syrup. The syrup is difficult to find in France, but we recently found a small bottle in the grocery store’s American section. Since it is so hard to find, it was a special treat for us to enjoy!
Jordan had an idea to put the crepe batter in an empty ketchup squeeze bottle for easy dispensing. After realizing we didn’t own a funnel in France, he got creative to move the batter into the bottle. Finally, we were ready to make the crepes.
Jordan prepped the pan with a little butter and added the batter to the pan to make a test crepe. I ran to grab a gold coin for Jordan to hold while flipping the crepe. The tradition goes that you are supposed to keep the gold coin in your left hand while flipping the crepe with your right. Both Jordan and I are left-handed, and we feel that is a little biased against us! We are used to living in a right-handed world, so Jordan quickly adapted. He perfectly flipped the crepe, so hopefully, that means good luck for us this year.
Will we have enough luck for COVID to end so that we can travel while living abroad? Time will tell.
Now you know the French tradition of Chandeleur and why crepes are all the rage on February 2. Are you craving crepes yet?