February 7, 2001
- La Chandeleur
When Madam Lallier invited Aprille and me for crepes
at four o'clock in the afternoon, I had no idea what Chandeleur
was. It is more commonly called the day of the day of the crepes
but it always celebrated on February 2. For hundreds of years
the French have celebrated Chandeleur by preparing crepes
in the afternoon before it gets dark. Madame Lallier told me
that the tradition is to flip the first crepe with one hand while
holding a gold coin in the other. If one succeeds in this task,
wealth and good health will follow for the rest of the year.
In former times the crepes were prepared over the fireplace and
it was an exciting day for the children of the household. After
greasing a frying pan with lard, it would be heated over the
fireplace until hot enough to pour the batter for the first crepe.
As everyone prepared for the acrobatic flip with one hand on
the gold, the youngest child would be sent outside as a joke
to catch the crepe when it came out of the chimney. It is a great
day for children because these crepes are made with eggs, butter,
milk, sugar and are filled with homemade preserves and jelly.
Of course, no one eats anything in France without something to
drink and here the tradition is to drink cider with crepes.
Madame Lallier serves us cider from Normandy and tells us that
a lot of cider is traditionally made here in the Loir and Cher
but that it is a little bit sharper tasting than the great ciders
of Brittany and Normandy.
Chandeleur was originally a pagan festival celebrated
by the Romans to honor the dead. On a certain day of the year
and during funerals everyone stood watch with candles and torches
to pay homage to Pluto and the other gods of Hell. It became
a Christian celebration in the fifth century when it was adopted
by Pope Gelase 1st as a substitute for the pagan festival of
Lupercales which honored the Roman God Pan. In the sixth
century Pope Vigile instituted the festival to replace the festival
of Proserpine. Chandeleur eventually became the day of
celebration of the presentation of Christ in the Temple and the
purification of Mary. During this ceremony many candles were
lit and blessed. During the middle ages, processions of people
carrying lit candles went through the fields and vineyards. There
were also processions from the church to the homes of the marchers.
The belief was that if your candle went out before you reached
home, you would die during the year.
The more sinister origins of Chandeleur are far behind
us and the festival is now celebrated in the afternoon before
the sun goes down. But it is dark by the time we leave the sixteenth
century home of Madame Lallier. She tells us that her home is
too young to be classed a national heritage, but I feel the weight
of the middle ages here. Perhaps it is the stained glass windows,
the six foot high fireplace and the huge wooden beams that give
gives me the sense of the past here. Or maybe it is just the
feeling that one gets when people still practice traditions that
are hundreds of years old.