Candlemas, celebrated on 2 February, is a festival rich in history and tradition, marking a time of conviviality and sharing in many cultures. Originally a pagan festival associated with light and fertility, it was incorporated into the Christian calendar, becoming a symbol of purification and the presentation of Jesus in the temple. This article explores the evolution of Candlemas, its various traditions, its religious significance, and its most famous element: the pancake.
I- History of Candlemas
Candlemas began as a pagan celebration. In ancient Rome, the festival of Lupercalia marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring renewal. Rituals involving fires and offerings were common, symbolising purification and fertility. These celebrations were closely linked to the agricultural cycle and seasonal changes.
Christianization of the Festival
In the 5th century, the Christian Church, in an effort to assimilate pagan traditions, transformed this festival into a religious celebration. Candlemas, also known as the Presentation of the Lord, commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem and the purification of the Virgin Mary, in accordance with Jewish law. The festival is marked by candlelit processions, symbolising Jesus as the light of the world.
Over time, Candlemas has been enriched by local customs and traditions. In France, the tradition of throwing pancakes, accompanied by the superstition of holding a coin in the other hand, became popular. This practice was supposed to guarantee the family's prosperity for the coming year. The pancakes, with their round shape and golden colour, symbolised the sun and the return of spring.
II- Traditions of Candlemas around the World
In France, Candlemas is inextricably linked with the crepe. The tradition of blowing the first pancake while holding a coin in the other hand is supposed to bring luck and prosperity. Families get together to prepare and eat pancakes, creating a moment of conviviality and sharing.
Traditions in Europe
Each European country has its own traditions. In Belgium and Switzerland, Candlemas is also associated with the preparation of pancakes. In Italy, 'Candelora' includes processions and candle blessings. In Spain, the day is celebrated with bonfires and processions, focusing on purification and light.
Liichtmëssdag in Luxembourg is a festival for children. In small groups, they go through the streets holding lit sticks or lanterns, singing traditional songs in the hope of receiving sweets or money.
In Mexico, Candlemas is an important celebration of the presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple. The festival involves the traditional dressing and adoration of the Infant Jesus, accompanied by song and followed by a family meal of tamales. This festival is linked to Epiphany, when the person who finds the bean is chosen to organise Candlemas.
United States and Canada
Although often overshadowed by Groundhog Day in the media, Candlemas is still celebrated in regions with strong French traditions, such as Quebec, Acadia, Louisiana, the Mississippi Valley and Maine.
Symbolism of Candlemas
The tradition of pancakes at Candlemas, symbolising the return of the sun after winter, is linked to the ancient custom of the Vestals, who offered cakes made from the old harvest to ensure a good new harvest. The candles lit in our homes are a reminder that Christ is the light of the world.
III- Candlemas in the Christian Religion
In Christianity, Candlemas is a day of profound spiritual significance. It represents the presentation of Jesus in the temple, an act that underlines his role as the light of the world. The feast is also linked to the purification of Mary, an important element in Christian tradition, symbolising obedience and faith.
Different Christian denominations celebrate Candlemas in different ways. In the Catholic tradition, Candlemas masses are often accompanied by candlelight processions and the blessing of candles. In Orthodox and some Protestant churches, similar rituals are observed, each emphasising light as a symbol of Christ.
Cultural and Spiritual Impact
Candlemas has had a significant impact on Christian art, music and literature. Scenes of the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the purification of Mary are frequently depicted in religious art. This festival is also a time for spiritual reflection, reminding the faithful of the importance of light, purification and renewal in their spiritual lives.
IV- The Crêpe, Star of Candlemas
History of the Crêpe
With origins dating back to Roman times, the crêpe was originally a simple cake made from flour and water. Over time, it evolved into the crêpe we know today, a mixture of flour, eggs and milk. This evolution reflects changes in culinary practices and the accessibility of ingredients.
The gold coin: A forgotten Candlemas custom
A lesser-known but significant Candlemas tradition involves holding a gold coin in the left hand while blowing the first pancake with the right. If the pancake lands correctly in the pan, popular belief promises a year of prosperity. This practice dates back to the Middle Ages and is linked to beliefs and superstitions linked to fertility and prosperity.
The Traditional Recipe for Candlemas Crêpes
Here is a classic and simple recipe for making light and delicious crêpes, perfect for Candlemas :
- Ingredients :
- 250 g of wheat flour
- 4 eggs
- 500 ml of milk
- 1 pinch of salt
- 50 g of melted butter
- 2 tablespoons of sugar (optional for sweet crêpes)
- 1 packet of vanilla sugar or a little liquid vanilla (optional)
- Oil or butter for cooking
- Preparation :
- In a large bowl, sift the flour with a pinch of salt (and sugar if desired). Make a well in the center and crack in the eggs. Gradually mix in the flour.
- Add the milk little by little, whisking to obtain a smooth batter.
- Incorporate the melted butter (and vanilla if used). Mix well.
- Let the batter rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Heat a crêpe pan and lightly grease it with oil or butter. Pour in a ladle of batter, tilting the pan to spread the batter.
- Cook until the edges are golden, then flip the crêpe. Cook the other side.
- Serve hot with toppings of your choice.
Symbolism and Meanings
The round shape and golden colour of the crêpe are reminiscent of the solar disc, symbolising the sun and the return of spring. The crêpe is also a symbol of community and sharing, bringing families and friends together over a convivial meal.
Prayer for Candlemas
"Lord, our God, on this feast of Candlemas, when we celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, we ask You to bless our families and our homes. As the candles we light symbolise the light of Christ, may our lives reflect that light and bring hope, peace and love to our world. Amen."
Candlemas, with its ancient roots and multiple meanings, remains a festival deeply rooted in cultural and religious traditions. It reminds us of the cycle of nature, the passage from darkness to light and the intimate link between pagan practices and Christian celebrations. Whether through the eating of pancakes, the holding of a gold coin for prosperity or prayers of blessing, Candlemas continues to weave a rich tapestry of customs and beliefs around the world.
What is Candlemas?
Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, is celebrated on 2 February. It is a Christian festival marking the presentation of Jesus in the temple, but it also has pagan origins linked to light and fertility.
Why are pancakes eaten at Chandeleur?
Pancakes are traditionally eaten at Candlemas because of their round shape and golden colour, symbolising the sun and the return of spring. They are also associated with superstitions and prosperity rituals.
How do you blow up a crêpe the right way?
To blow up a crêpe, make sure the crêpe is sufficiently cooked on one side. Then, with a quick flick of the wrist, throw the pancake into the air and try to catch it in the pan. Traditionally, you hold a coin in your left hand for good luck and prosperity.
Is Chandeleur only celebrated in France?
No, Candlemas is celebrated in several European countries, each with its own traditions. In Italy it is known as Candelora, and in Spain it involves processions and bonfires.
What Christian traditions are associated with Candlemas?
In the Christian tradition, Candlemas commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary. It is often celebrated with masses and candlelit processions, symbolising Jesus as the light of the world.
Can pancakes be prepared differently for Candlemas?
Yes, although the traditional pancake recipe is simple, it can be adapted to suit individual tastes. Ingredients such as vanilla, sugar or even liqueurs can be added to vary the flavours.