Holy Crepe! It’s Crepe Day In France (Chandeleur)-The French Groundhog day

crepe day, the French groundhog day

While the US and Canada are waiting for the groundhog to poke its cute little head out of its hole on the 2nd of February,  the French are gorging themselves on crepes. Can you imagine- a whole day dedicated to eating the equivalent of French pancakes? it just doesn’t get any more cliché than that. But what is this day and why eat scrumptious crepes on this day?.

Although crepes are eaten all year round in France, it’s tradition to eat crepes on the 2nd day of February, exactly 40 days after Christmas.

To French speakers in France, this day is known as “La Chandeleur” which DOES NOT translate to “Crepe day” at all. Chandeleur comes from the word chandelle which means candle.

If you’re at all familiar with religious holidays, you probably know this day as Candlemas in English, which refers to the custom when clergymen would bless candles before lighting them and distributing them to people for the mass.

The light of the candle is symbolic of Christ as “the light of the world” which explains why Chandeleur is also known as “Fête de la Lumière” which means a celebration of the light, not to be confused with Lyon’s “Fête des lumière” in December which means festival of lights.

In case you have no idea what Candlemas (La Chandeleur ) is, it’s celebrated to commemorate 3 occasions.

  1. The presentation of Jesus Christ
  2. Jesus’ first entry into the temple in Jerusalem
  3. The purification of the Virgin Mary’s ( in Catholic churches). Women were considered impure for six weeks after giving birth. (all Jewish mothers went to the Temple for the ceremony called the Purification.)

Although “La Chandeleur” has religious roots,  it’s become somewhat of a nonsecular tradition in France so everyone, no matter what their religion partakes in the eating of crepes. In fact, you’d be hardpressed to find a French person who can actually tell you why they eat crepes for Chandeleur.

Very few countries celebrate Candlemas by eating crepes except Belgians and some French Canadians. I remember my aunt flipping a crepe while holding a coin a few times but it wasn’t a regular thing for us.

How to correctly say Crepe in French

So now that you know the French eat crepes during “La Chandeleur” let’s first get the pronunciation right.

It’s NOT pronounced “C-R-A-P-E”, it’s pronounced “K-R-E-P” (rhymes with YEP).   Say it! K-R-E-P…..  K-R-E-P…..  K-R-E-P…..  Perfect. Now you sound like a real French person.

Click play below to hear how it should be pronounced.

Don’t confuse National crepe day in France with pancake day which falls on the 26th of September 

Why do French people eat crepes during Candlemas

The custom of eating crepes for La Chandeleur can be traced back to superstitions that date back to the Roman times. The belief was that, if you made crepes, it would bring you good fortune and a good wheat harvest. But the crepe had to be made a special way.

“If you don’t want rotten wheat, eat crepes during Chandeleur” ( Si point ne veut de blé charbonneux Mange des crêpes à la Chandeleur)

The tradition of flipping a crepe while holding a gold coin

“He who eats crepes for Chandeleur is sure to have money all year long” (Qui mange des crêpes quand la Chandeleur est arrivée, est sûr d’avoir argent pendant l’année.)

You were supposed to flip the first crepe in a pan with your right hand while holding a gold coin (preferably a gold Louis coin) in your left hand. The gold coin was then rolled into the crepe and placed in the master’s room on top of a cabinet until the following year.

The following year, the coin was removed from the year-old crepe and given to the first poor person they met.

The belief was that if you followed this tradition, you would be prosperous until the next chandeleur.  Peasants also believed that by eating crepes, they were ensuring a healthy wheat harvest for the coming year.

Today, candlelight processions and other rites no longer exist but the tradition of eating crepes on Chandeleur still remains and although extremely rare, some people still do flip the first Chandeleur crepe holding a coin.

You might be interested in reading about another holiday called L’épiphane where you eat a fluffy brioche cake and can become king for a day.

The interesting link between crepe day (Chandeleur) and groundhog day

Now that you know that national crepe day is actually called “la Chandeleur” in French and also “Fête de la Lumière”, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with groundhog day?

For starters, both Chandeleur and groundhog day fall on the 2nd of February but they have much more in common than just the same date.

The groundhog tradition actually stems from and shares some of the same weather folklore or beliefs which are associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe.

For instance, here is an English song which talks about the weather which by now you’ve figured out was important for the upcoming harvests. 

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

The groundhog day tradition sounds pretty similar.

If the groundhog sees its shadow, this means thirty days of winter still remain and it goes back into its hole. If the groundhog DOES NOT see it’s shadow than spring is right around the corner. In the US and Canada it’s a groundhog but in many other cultures, the groundhog is replaced by another animal.

For instance, in parts of France, it’s believed that if the bear comes out of his cave and sees that the sky is clear, it goes back to its cave to sleep for another 40 days or 6 weeks because it knows that the clear sky is only temporary. In other parts of France, it’s a wolf or otter while in Ireland it’s a hedgehog.

How do you eat crepes

Crêpes are usually eaten different kinds toppings such as Nutella, confiture or a sprinkling of sugar but never maple syrup. Some people also drink a cider with the crepes.

But crepes aren’t just reserved for Chandeleur in France. It’s eaten all year round usually for dinner, lunch or as a dessert but not for breakfast.

Bon Appetit.

Vocabulary

  • Jour de la marmotte =Ground hog day (like the movie)
  • crepe “K-R-E-P= A thin French pancake
  • La Chandeleur = Candlemas.
  • Le jour de crepe = Crepe Day
  • Celebration of light = fête de la lumière

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).