In France, on February 2, there is a celebration of the so-called La Fête des Chandelles or Chandeleur. It is a popular name for the church holiday named Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Church, folk traditions and food
La Fête des Chandelles means the feast of candles. The name comes from the custom of lighting candles and blessing them in the churches. Some of the customs cultivated during the time of Candeleur stem from the old peasant traditions. They are connected with ensuring the prosperity of the household. Magical thinking has a lot to do with it. Another thing, that we have to mention in connection with Candeleur is food. In France, it is one of the most important components of national identity. That is why the rich traditions associated with it can be found even in the celebrations of church holidays.
The Presentation of the Lord - biblical genesis.
The Presentation of the Lord entered the liturgical calendar in the fifth century. Its task was to commemorate the presentation of Christ to God the Father in the temple. It took place 40 days after his birth during a traditional Jewish ceremony commemorating the rescue of Israel's firstborn sons from Egyptian captivity. Obeying the Mosaic Law, Joseph and Mary then sacrificed the turtle dove. It was much cheaper than the lamb, which was required from richer Israelites. As we know, Mary and Joseph lived in poverty.
Pagan and Christian meanings
Before the Feast of the Offering was introduced, pagan festival of Lupercalia was celebrated in Rome. These were rituals related to the cult of fertility, during which young men ran around the streets in the skins of wild animals. The celebration of these holidays scandalized many people who already had a mentality other than pagan. Now there is no room for excesses like that, yet some of the elements of the festival survived. They just have a completely different meaning from the one that it used to have in pagan celebrations. An example of it is light. During the Lupercalia, pagans organized torchlight processions. Light and fire were to symbolize reviving nature. Burning candles during the celebration of the Presentation of the Lord is to refer to the fact that Christ is called the light of the world. As in other countries, there is a tradition of ceremonial blessing of candles. People bring those candles home from the church. Tradition says, that the blessed candles (une chandelle bénie) protect the people from evil spirits, death and being struck by a lightning, which, as we know, usually results in death also. The blessing of candles was also done to protect the sowing from low temperatures.
Where did the tradition with pancakes come from?
It may seem strange that baking pancakes are an integral part of the tradition associated with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. First of all, however, we must remember that we are describing the customs of France, a country where culinary traditions are important. Second, this custom was initiated by none other than the Pope. When the first celebration of the Presentation of the Lord took place in Rome, the Pope ordered a large number of pancakes to be fried for the faithful. The pilgrims enjoyed the meal, the recipe was obtained, and the tradition of baking and eating pancakes on the very day was born. An inquisitive reader may, however, ask why pancakes are baked in France and not in Italy?... Among the pilgrims who went to the Eternal City for the celebration of the new church holiday, there were many French. And those, as we know, like to cook and fry much more than the other nations.
Folk customs associated with pancakes
There are several superstitions associated with pancakes. It was -and in some instances still is- believed (and some still do believe in it) that eating them would improve the yield. A peculiar custom is connected with the way the pancakes are fried on this day. To ensure their happiness, the French hold a gold coin in one hand and a frying pan on which they turn the pancake in the other. For good luck, wrap the coin over the pancake and take it to the procession. This was to guarantee success and happiness throughout the next year. Folks of today also eat a lot of pancakes. They are available not only in bars and restaurants. In Paris, there are special booths with pancakes. Bon apetit!
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