French Tradition La Chandeleur- candlemas

The French tradition La Chandeleur (Candlemas) takes place on the 2nd February. It is actually considered the last cycle of the Christmas celebration; in religious tradition, Christians were only meant to clear the Christ’s manger scene after la Chandeleur. To find out more about the religious side of things, read our other article on La Chandeleur here.

Some say the name itself has its origins in the word ‘chandelle,’ which means candle. Others trace the etymology of ‘Chandeleur’ to the Latin ‘festa candelarum,’ or festival of candles. Either way, candles are involved! Nowadays, la Chandeleur is mostly known as the day of the crêpes. It’s a day when families and friends all make crêpes and enjoy them together. If you’ve got a favourite crêperie (crêpe shop) then make sure to check out if they’re doing an event for the occasion! The region of Brittany is most famous for its sweet or savoury buckwheat crepes, called galettes, which are often enjoyed alongside cider. The first crepe was made around the 13th century, when a Breton spilt buckwheat porridge onto a cooking stone, although some historians have found proof that crepes were eaten in 7000 BC! 

Traditionally, when flipping a crepe you should hold a coin in your other hand to ensure good luck and prosperity for the coming year. This may take you some practice, as flipping a crepe is hard with two hands, let alone one! 
Learn how to make crêpes thanks tou our recipe HERE.

But why make the French make crepes in the first place? There are a number of theories for this:

  • The colour and shape of the crêpes is meant to be evocative of the sun after a harsh winter, as well as the cycle of ever-changing seasons. 
  • Using the wheat of the previous harvest to make crêpes was meant to be a good luck charm for the next harvest.
  • Pope Gélase I used to distribute a crêpe-style dish to the pilgrims who arrived in Rome and the tradition continued from that point on.

Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things. Regardless, who can say no to a crêpe? Especially in France! 

Another side to this festival is the celebration of bears. In German and Scandinavian areas, bear festivals used to take place in the Middle Ages. When the bear came out from its cave at the end of winter, it meant that the weather would soon get warmer. This was obviously good news for a farming population! They celebrated the bear’s appearance with carnivals, processions and skits of kidnapping young girls. Needless to say, the Church was not thrilled about this. Therefore, it’s possible that Pope Gélase I started Chandeleur as a more docile replacement. In areas such as the Alps and the Pyrénées, la Chandeleur was called la Chandelours instead (“ours” meaning bear).


Or click HERE to discover more French traditions.


Photo credit: soniaC –