If you believe most American shops and greeting card companies, the next major holiday to follow Christmas and New Year’s is Valentine’s Day.
But here in France, another holiday sneaks its way into the fray in early February.
The holiday in question is Candlemas, or La Chandeleur, and the appropriate way to celebrate it is with crêpes.
Discovering a French tradition
When I was first studying French at the tender age of 9, my Brooklyn-born-and-raised French teacher quickly caught on to the fact that the way to our hearts was through our stomachs—and thus the way to get us to embrace the French language and culture as much as possible was to feed us. She was the first to introduce me to the French Candlemas tradition of making crêpes and flipping them high in the air—holding a piece of gold in your other hand, of course.
This superstitious practice is said to bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year, and I quickly embraced it as a way to make crêpes for dinner twice in as many months. (I do so again for Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday or “Pancake Day” in the UK.)
What is Candlemas?
Candlemas is celebrated on February 2 and is first and foremost a religious holiday. In the Christian tradition, Candlemas commemorates the day when Jesus was first presented in the Temple.
In nominally secular France, however, it’s become a bit like Groundhog Day: a celebration of spring’s impending arrival. In fact, similar superstitions surround Candlemas and Groundhog Day. Some believe that a rainy Candlemas will bring about 40 days of rain, whereas a clear Candlemas means that spring will be soon upon us.
How to celebrate Candlemas—whether or not you’re in France
If you’re at home, it’s easy enough to cook up a batch of delicious crêpes to enjoy on Candlemas. Use savory fillings like ham, cheese, and egg for dinner, and fill the remaining crêpes with sweeter toppings like Nutella and banana or lemon and sugar for dessert. To bring good luck for the coming year, it’s important to flip them in the air without a spatula.
For best results, prepare them in a nonstick pan and, when shaking the pan back and forth to detach the crêpe easily, hold the pan in your right hand (and the gold in your left), and flip them in the air. The key to success (I learned quickly, at 9) is confidence: use your whole arm to flip, and don’t be afraid to get a bit of height on it before catching the crêpe as it falls.
If you’re visiting Paris during Candlemas, you’ll find crêpes on nearly every street corner in the central Marais or Latin Quarter districts. You can also enjoy the Breton classic at Café Breizh, which specializes not only in wheat-flour crêpes but in savory buckwheat galettes.Want our insider’s guide to eating in Paris? Just add your email address in the form below!
Emily is a bona-fide turophile who gets a kick out of researching urban legends and folk stories related to French cheese (and other French food, bien sûr). She’s also a natural wine evangelist and a 19th century French literature nerd.