Why are the French eating pancakes on the wrong day?

“… and on Thursday we’re going to make crêpes* to celebrate la Chandeleur!” said my child’s nanny.

“Tuesday?” said I.

Her brow crumpled in concentration. “No, I’m sure it’s Thursday.”

“Pancake day is always on Tuesday, ” I affirmed, big stupid Anglo-Saxon that I am.

“I’ll check,” she said, with the calm professionalism of someone who makes a living managing unruly children.

We parted and I got to wondering why she had referred to Pancake Day as la Chandeleur when I was pretty damn sure it was Mardi Gras. Was it possible that this Chandeleur was something different? Was it possible that I was wrong?

I was.

It turns out that la Chandeleur is a whole other Christian-based pancake-eating themed celebration from Pancake Tuesday , a.k.a. Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday. Yes, those genius French have added another day to the calendar where it’s basically obligatory to eat pancakes/crêpes. And this is in a nation where they eat crêpes all the time anyway. That’s like having a festival in Britain where everyone has to eat Gregg’s sausage rolls, ie entirely unnecessary but why the hell not?

So what is la Chandeleur? Well, it commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple when he was 40 days old.  Jesus is the light of the world, therefore it was traditionally celebrated in France with a procession in which people held candles. Candle (English) = la chandelle (French) = candelorum (Latin).

pancake Jesus

Jesus as manifested in pancake

But what has this got to do with pancakes?

Well, duh, Jesus is the light of the world; the sun is light; and what else is golden and round like the sun? PANCAKES!

You see? It’s totally logical and not at all a tenuous excuse to eat lovely pancakes, eh France? (Nudge, nudge.)

There are traditions that go along with the festival too. For example, young unmarried women have to toss the pancakes six time without dropping it to meet their ideal man before the year is out. (I could make a very easy joke here about good tossing skills attracting a man but I am klassy, so won’t.) Another is that if you flip the pancake with a coin in your hand, you’ll be rich. Good luck with that.

Now if the French have eaten loads of crêpes on la Chandeleur, do they actually eat them all over again on Mardi Gras, often celebrated not that long afterwards? Yes! But not just crêpes. Beignets (very similar to doughnuts) and gaufres (waffles) are also very popular. Anything lardy and sweet gets shovelled down grateful gobs before the rigours of Lent. In 2017 the two dates are very close because we have an early Easter, but sometimes there’s a good few weeks separating the occasions.

So well done, France, for adding more crêpes to our lives. And Happy Chandeleur on THURSDAY 2 February!

 

*I’m referring to crêpes and pancakes interchangeably because I’m tired. I know they’re not exactly the same thing but c’mon.

 

Do you celebrate la Chandeleur? Or were you like me who, after 7 years in France, failed to notice this celebration? And what’s your favourite crêpe topping? Also: why do the French not eat lemon and sugar on their crêpes? Clearly it’s the best. Tell us in the comments, and please share if you’ve enjoyed 🙂

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One Comment


  1. Anne

    16th February 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Clearly the answer to the last question is because the best is butter (melted by the hot crêpe) and sugar…

    Reply

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