Candles, Crêpes, and Champagne

Helena Archer
February 12, 2013

When my sister invited me over for crêpes at her boss’s apartment, I didn’t realize I was actually attending a traditional French celebration. The Christian holiday of Candlemass, or Chandeleur, in French, takes place on February 2nd and was created as a tribute to God’s light where candles were lit, blessed, and borne in a procession. The French tradition, however, involves crêpes, which are very thin pancakes that are usually covered with sweet or savory toppings and rolled or folded up to be eaten. The crêpes come from the Pope Saint Gelasius I giving them to pilgrims, and their round shape also represents the sun.

Despite more serious religious origins the Chandeleur I went to was very much a social event. My sister and I gathered with a large group of her boss’s friends in her apartment, which of course meant many bouts of two or three kisses on the cheek with everyone we met as la bise is tradition when being introduced to friends. It also meant polishing up my language skills, as I (rather awkwardly) transitioned from classroom French to social speaking. On the street, you can buy crêpes with lemon and sugar or Nutella and bananas, but after the hors d’oeuvres had been cleared at more than a dozen different jars of jam were laid out. There was, of course, strawberry, blackberry, and marmalade, but also fig jam (very popular here), red berry (a mix of different berries, similar to “mixed berry” in the US), and a red, paste-looking jam that I didn’t recognize. It was called cynorhodon, which we eventually figured out meant “rosehip,” and was tart and delicious and made it on to two of my crêpes.

Not only was the food delicious (Crêpes are really easy to make and good to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so highly recommended), but the company was a lot different than I tend to encounter. As my sister put it, it was probably one of the most “classically French” gatherings I’ll get to go to. We drank lots of wine and after it was time for crêpes, champagne, listened to French politics as seen by opinionated retirees, and even talked to a specialist in French feminist films. Although we didn’t end up doing it because it had become pretty late at night, one of the main traditions of Chandeleur is to hold a coin in your writing hand and flip a crêpe in the other. If you catch it your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. And we Americans actually have our counterpart: Groundhog Day! There are even similar French sayings regarding the weather, such as

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour

I will say that I hope the weather here warms up soon. As pretty as Paris is in the snow and the rain, I fall a little more in love with it each time the sun peeks out for a few hours, giving me a little preview of the next few months.

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Helena Archer

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Helena Archer is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina studying public health, international studies, and creative writing. She loves all three, and is thrilled to be able to develop her interests abroad. During her semester in Paris, she hopes to engage and immerse herself in French and Parisian culture, and also to examine immigrant and francophone presence and relations. Helena loves hearing and telling stories, and can&#39;t wait to discover more of them in Paris.</span></p>

2013 Spring
Home University:
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Health Studies
International Studies
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