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La Chandeleur, origin and history and why do we eat pancakes?

Also called the Feast of Candles, Candlemas is an ancient festival of pagan and Latin culture. It takes place a few weeks after the Epiphany, namely 40 days after Christmas, more precisely on February 2nd. This celebration later became a Christian holiday that coincides with the presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple. It is one of the 12 great liturgical feasts, commemorated by the Orthodox Churches. Candlemas is accompanied, especially for those with a sweet tooth, by the making of pancakes. It is difficult to escape this tradition. But where does it come from? A little history on Candlemas and pancakes in this guide.

Origin and history of Candlemas


Etymologically, Candlemas, or Chandeleuse as it was previously known, is derived from the Latin phrase “festa candelarum” which means “feast of candles”. In fact, February 2 corresponds to the blessing of candles, 40 days after the birthday of Jesus. It is a Christian festival, which is inspired by the feast of the rising, celebrated by the Hebrews with a purification ceremony.

The origin of Candlemas dates back to many centuries ago. At that time, two pagan festivals take place at the beginning of February, namely the Celtic festival of Imbolc which takes place on the 1st or 2nd and the Roman Lupercalia, commemorating the end of winter on the 15th. They consist in purifying the fields before the sowing period and the herds in order to guarantee them a good production success. For information, Lupercus is the God of fertility and protection of the herds.

To celebrate this tradition, the Celtic farmers use all the flour reserves to make pancakes and cross all the fields carrying torches. They chose this rustic dish, because of its color and shape, which symbolize the Sun to commemorate the return to light after the winter.

Candlemas was revived in the fifth century by Pope Gelasius I, who encouraged a procession through the streets with candles every February 2. At the same time, he distributed pancakes to the pilgrims who came to Rome on that day.

Why do we eat pancakes during Candlemas?

Candlemas combines both pagan traditions and the traditions of Jewish and Christian religions. This event can bring joy to Bretons, but also to food lovers. Indeed, the festival of candles is associated with the tasting of pancakes and galettes. February 2nd becomes a perfect time to enjoy delicious pancakes, made with wheat or buckwheat, with friends or family.

The Romans used to prepare thick pancakes with leftover flour and water, which they cooked on hot stones and then distributed them on the occasion of the Lupercalia festival on February 15.

To ensure the fertility of livestock and a good harvest of the fields, the Celts also took the habit of making cakes round and golden, like the sun, symbolizing its return and the beginning of sowing. In addition, a rite that has endured is to blow the pancakes by the right hand while holding in the left hand a coin.

Since then, this recipe has made the whole family happy, both young and old. On the menu, caramel and salted butter pancakes, sugar pancakes or buckwheat pancakes allow to put in force the Breton gastronomy.

Other traditions that go with Candlemas

Various other traditions accompany the Candlemas festival. Some people throw the first pancake in the air with their right hand and flip it while holding a gold coin in their left hand. Others light a candle at the same time. No matter what, the pancake must fall back into the pan correctly and be placed on top of a cabinet. This concept aims to achieve a good harvest and a very prosperous financial state.

Candlemas customs change depending on the region. Some countries order to fold the pancake around a gold coin before placing it on top of the cupboard, located in the master of the house. For the next year, the debris of this thin pancake is recovered and the coin deposited inside will be offered to the first needy person met. It is essential to respect this tradition in order to be sure to earn money throughout the year.

As gold coins are hard to find nowadays, some people replace them with the most important coin available in the family. Elsewhere, the pancake must be thrown over the top of the cupboard as a guarantee of a good harvest. In some regions, the pancakes are simply eaten to prevent the grains from being spoiled. Other people use the virtues of the blessed candles during Candlemas to bring more luck to the sick and dying.



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