La Chandeleur, known as Candlemas in English, is a festival that designates the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. Deriving from the Latin, ‘Festa Candelarum’, meaning ‘Festival of Candles’, Candlemas was the day of the year when all candles to be used by churches during the coming year were delivered and blessed. At its origin, Candlemas is a pagan Roman festival whereby candles were lit at midnight in honour of the dead.
The day was formerly known as the ‘Feast of Lights’ and celebrated the increased strength of the sun as winter gave way and transformed into spring.
Candlemas is of great importance to the Christian calendar, with the festival commemorating the ritual purification of Mary forty days after the birth of Jesus. Christians pay homage to the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In accordance with Jewish customs, it was expected that young male infants were taken to the temple in Jerusalem forty days after their birth to be presented to God by their grateful parents.
Nowadays, whilst Candlemas is still celebrated in churches across France, the day is equally renowned for its crêpes. Tradition dictates that flour remaining from the past year has to be used to ensure a new beginning, a good harvest and by extension prosperity for the year to come. It is said that crêpes, with their golden colour and circular form, recall the shape of the sun, evoking the return of spring after a harsh and cold winter.
There are many superstitions surrounding Candlemas, nearly all related to the weather. These date back to when France was primarily an agricultural land and the weather played a vital part in the country’s welfare. Numerous proverbs warn of the consequences of specific weather at Candlemas, for instance: “Soleil de la Chandeleur, annonce hiver et malheur” (“If it is sunny on Candlemas, winter will continue to bring bad luck”).