Candlemas – La Fête de la Chandeleur

La Fête de la Chandeleur

Origin of La Chandeleur

La Chandeleur (Candlemas in English) is a Christian religious holiday with pagan roots , falling just before the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia which was celebrated to avert evil spirits and purify the city.  It falls on 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas Day, and commemorates the Presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem (La Présentation du Seigneur). La Chandeleur, sometimes known as La Fête des Chandelles, takes its name from an ancient tradition of lighting candles at midnight as a symbol of purification.

Pancake Day in France

In the UK Shrove Tuesday, 40 days before Easter, is celebrated as Pancake Tuesday; but in France it is on this earlier day of La Chandeleur that the French traditionally make crêpes (pancakes).  For a couple of weeks before La Chandeleur, supermarkets and shops all over France are full of reminders that it is coming and the shelves are stacked with frying pans, squeezy lemon juice, Nutella, rum, Cointreau and other liqueurs to douse or spread on the basic pancake.

According to one French tradition the pancakes are tossed in the pan with the right hand while holding a coin in the left hand.   If the pancake lands back in the pan, it will bring prosperity all the rest of the year.  I tried this last year – I thought the pancake landed perfectly every time, but it didn’t work!

There are lots of rhymes and sayings associated with the day; given that it falls at the beginning of February it’s no surprise that most of them to do with the weather adn the transition from winter to spring.  Here are a few examples:

À la Chandeleur, l’hiver se meurt ou prend vigueur.
At Candlemas, the winter either dies away or gets stronger.

À la Chandeleur, au grand jour, les grandes douleurs.
Candlemas, everyone knows, brings great sorrows.

Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost

À la Chandeleur, grande neige et froideur.
At Candlemas, great snow and cold.

À la Chandeleur, le froid fait douleur.
At Candlemas, the cold is pain.

Rosée à la Chandeleur, l’hiver à sa dernière heure.
If there’s dew at Candlemas, winter is almost over.

Si la chandelle est belle et claire, nous avons l’hiver derrière.
If the “candle” is beautiful and clear, we have left winter behind.

Chandeleur à ta porte, c’est la fin des feuilles mortes.
When Candlemas comes your door, it’s the end of dead leaves.

Any improvements on the translations, or other sayings, gladly received!

Meantime, happy pancake making, everyone 🙂


5 thoughts on “Candlemas – La Fête de la Chandeleur

  1. That’s great! I too had not knowledge of this day of celbration in France. Many thanks. Jim

  2. Interesting read, I was looking up explanations of the traditions yesterday, I think I’ll share your blog instead, if you don’t mind!

  3. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view!) it’s not a public holiday so there’s not such a song-and-dance about it, though there’s an annual fairground in Alençon the week of La Chandeleur.

  4. Intriguing – I wasn’t aware of this holiday.

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