Design a site like this with
Get started

Prayers, Pancakes and Paintings

Candlemas, or la Chandeleur in French, is celebrated on the second day of February, forty days after Christmas. Announcing the end of winter, the festival was, for centuries, closely associated with traditions related to purification, fertility, prosperity and light and is popularly known here as le jour des crêpes or Pancake Day.

Candlemas is one of those Christian festivals whose precise origins remain obscure to us today. Many ascribe the establishment of the feast day to the 5th century pope, Gelasius I, but it seems that the celebrations were observed in Jerusalem well over a century before his time. The feast of Candlemas honours the presentation, in the Temple, of the infant Jesus, born forty days earlier on Christmas night, and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Its name is said to derive from the blessed candles that were carried in solemn procession to the church.

Candlemas by Jozef Israels - Imbolc - Brittany

In establishing its liturgical year, the early Christian Church took care to divert the popular feelings associated with the significant seasonal pagan festivals by supplanting these with Christian ones. Assigning Candlemas to the second of February was likely an attempt to displace the Celtic festival celebrating the end of winter known as Imbolg which was typically held on the first day of the month. Like Candlemas, it too was a feast of purification but also of rebirth and light.

It is believed that for the ancient Celts the year began on 1 November with the festival known as Samhain, which inaugurated the start of winter, while six months later, on 1 May, the feast of Beltane marked the start of summer. Two intermediate festivals, Imbolg (or Imbolc) on 1 February and Lugnasad on 1 August, divided the year into four equal seasons, the middle of which roughly corresponding to the Midsummer and Midwinter solstices. However, we should not get too fixated on precise dates, especially given the changes wrought by the adoption of the Gregorian calendar that mean we are today almost two weeks ahead of the dates known at the end of Caesar’s reign.

The Crepes by Pieter Aertsen - Brittany - Candlemas

Candlemas heralded the end of winter and thus the beginning of the agrarian season; by February the days are noticeably lengthening and new shoots begin to make an appearance. Its significance is highlighted in many once popular Breton sayings, such as: When Candlemas comes, put away the spinning wheel and take out the plough; At Candlemas, hide the candlesticks and break the distaff; At Candlemas, daylight for all workers, except the tailor and the loafer.

Tradition, rather than history, says that in order to relieve the weary pilgrims arriving in Rome, Pope Gelasius I arranged for them to be comforted with a simple meal of pancakes made from flour and eggs. We will never know the truth of it but it is likely a tale designed to provide a pseudo-historical link between pancakes and Candlemas with the pope once believed to have instituted the festival. Pope Gelasius I did however institute a festival that eventually succeeded in finally suppressing the ancient Roman purification and fertility festival of Lupercalia; displaced by the Feast of Saint Valentine at the end of the 5th century.

Pancakes by Gabriel Thurner - Candlemas - Brittany

It is difficult to say how far back the custom of eating pancakes on Candlemas extends but the practice was noted as traditional here in the 16th century. For centuries, the people of rural France believed that if they did not make pancakes on Candlemas, their wheat would spoil. The pancakes were prepared from the wheat of the previous harvest, which was used in quantity because future harvests were almost in sight now that the agricultural year was restarting. An old Breton proverb notes: Candlemas, the year half-passed, the grain half-consumed.

Abel Hugo, elder brother of noted French author Victor Hugo, wrote in his work, Picturesque France (1835): “At Candlemas, if the peasants did not make pancakes, their wheat would rot. The one who turns his pancake with skill, who does not drop it in the ashes, or who does not catch it in the pan, in the heart-breaking form of some crumpled linen, that one will have happiness – money, this tangible form of happiness – until Candlemas of the following year.”

Pancake flipping - Candlemas - Brittany

Readers will not be surprised to learn that a number of other superstitions once surrounded the feast of Candlemas here. Some people believed that in order not to run out of money during the year ahead, it was necessary to bake pancakes at the time of the mass. In eastern Brittany, it was said that to have money all year round, one needed to hold a coin, preferably made of gold, in your left hand, while the first pancake was thrown from the right. This pancake was then carefully wrapped around the coin and carried in procession by all the family to the main bed where it was left until the following year on the top of the closed bed. The remains of last year’s pancake were then recovered and the coin it contained given to the first deserving beggar that called upon the house.

Across Brittany, it was regarded a good omen if the candle, blessed and lit in church, arrived home unextinguished and whoever carried it was believed sure not to die before the next Candlemas.  Once home, the candle was carefully stored away; at least until its many virtues were called upon by the household.  The Candlemas candle was considered a precious talisman against evil spells; it was re-lit to invoke God’s protection from them and to repel evil spirits. It was also lit to ward off potentially catastrophic lightning strikes during a raging storm. In some areas, it was said that in order to be protected from lightning and all evil spells, it was necessary to turn three times around a stool while holding a lit candle blessed that day.

Making pancakes - Candlemas - Brittany

The power of the candle was also invoked at life’s key moments and was popularly lit to bless first communicants, engaged couples about to be married and people close to death. Sometimes, the candle was even lit in the hope of shortening the suffering of the dying. However, care was taken to ensure that three candles were not lit in the same room as this was said to announce a painful death and foreshadow the three death candles of a wake.

The Candlemas candle was also once held to possess curative powers here; three drops of its wax, dripped into their drinking trough, cured sick animals and a few drops placed on hatching eggs was said to ensure that they all hatched properly.

Pancake maker by Brekelenkam - Candlemas - Brittany

Candlemas was also a festival devoted to lovers. For unmarried girls, the tradition was to bake six pancakes in a row and to drop them back into the pan to ensure a wedding within the year. Other young ladies, who wanted to know what the future held for them, made a novena in a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. During the night of the last day, the young lady, once asleep, was said to see in a dream the face of her true love and vice versa. Candlemas was also a day that allowed one to forecast the weather; it was said that if the weather is fine on Candlemas, forty days of winter will surely follow.

While candlelit processions are an increasingly rare sight nowadays, other old Candlemas traditions are still observed stronger than ever and in Brittany – the home of the crêpe – you might be hard-pressed to find a family not celebrating the day with a meal of crêpes together. Although, how many of them will remember that in western parts of Brittany, before leaving the house after a meal of pancakes, it was once thought important to eat a small morsel of bread first, otherwise one risked being taken by the mischievous korrigans!

Brittany and pancakes - Candlemas superstitions

Here in Brittany, two main types of pancake are popularly baked nowadays. The designation crêpe being applied to those made using white flour, eggs, milk and butter, and usually containing a sweet-filling such as salted butter, lemon juice or jam. The term galette is used for heavier pancakes made with buckwheat flour and water, which typically contain a savoury-filling such as cheese, eggs or slices of pork sausage.

To continue the virtual feast, here are a few more images of pancake making through the centuries; with not an electric crêpe maker in sight!

Pancake baking outside - Candlemas - Brittany
Pancake Baking Woman by Willem van Mieris - Candlemas superstitions - Brittany
Making pancakes - Candlemas - Brittany - Superstitions
Crepes by Pieter van Slingelandt - Candlemas - Brittany
Making Pancakes by Giraud - Candleemas - Brittany
Crepes by Desplanques - Candlemas - Brittany
Crepes in Brittany - Candlemas superstitions

Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

236 thoughts on “Prayers, Pancakes and Paintings

  1. Candlemas has largely disappeared from the calendar here in England but, I for one (and my wife makes two) will happily take on the tradition of pancakes every February 2 from now on. Anytime is pancake time! but it is good to have a tradition to attach a passion to.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. Candlemas? Hmmm. I’d forgotten the English word. Your post brought back a whole array of smells and tastes. My Breton mother was, of course, big on “crêpes”. Here they do tamales. Not quite the same stuff. Might do some crêpes on Tuesday.
    Bonne Chandeleur.

    Liked by 9 people

      1. That is kind of you. Yes, my husband’s mother passed away in 2018 a few week’s after her 96th birthday. One could not ask for a better mother-in-law. I am glad to have known her.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Only two years ago. Still hurts I’m sure. But then 96 is a long life. I hope she was in good health ’till the end. My mother-in-law passed away last year at 97. She was in reasonably good health but her head was mostly gone.
        What was your in-law’s name? I will think of her as we have crepes for lunch, and the next time I have tamales… 🙏🏻

        Liked by 3 people

      3. That’s lovely. Her name was Jeannette. And your mother-in-law passing was recent. I’m sorry. What was her name? We don’t have crepes often but Christmas tamales for two missing mother-in-laws.

        Jeannette was in bad health for years, but she kept her mind right up until the very end.

        As much as I miss her, I’m glad she’d not here to see the pandemic.

        Liked by 4 people

      4. Jeannette. Sounds very “Français”. I will do my best to remember her name. The ancient Greeks thought that we could “live” forever, as long as someone remembered our name. My mother-in-law’s name was Amira, which means Princess in Arabic. Don’t ask me why, She was Colombian.
        And yes, it’s better that they did not see the mess we’re in.
        Take care.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Oh how delightful! I learned years ago about buckwheat crepes and apple butter in Brittany, but never all the traditions surrounding it or why it was so popular. There was, I think, a certain unintentional wisdom in the church by not completed supplanting these so-called pagan rites. People are necessarily connected with the commonplace, the unremarkable and ordinary. When we make them sacred, remarkable and extraordinary, we reinforce our connection with one another and the Creator of all. I love all the artwork and the humor. Truly sweet! 🙂

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Thank you! Yes, the crêpe is probably Brittany’s most famous cultural export 😉
      I agree, it was, of necessity, a cautious strategy and made sense – displacing the old beliefs and places of worship took a very long time. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Anche qui in Italia si celebra la candelora. Nella valle Padana viene tramandato un proverbio: alla Madonna della Candelora dall’inverno siamo fora, ma se piove o tira vento l’inverno ancora non è contento.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Thank you, yes. The belief in the day’s ability to forecast the weather is also found in other parts of France although I think that several saint’s days also once claimed the same powers. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Quand la chandelle arrive, rangez le rouet et prenez la charrue; À la Chandeleur, cachez les chandeliers et cassez la quenouille; A la Chandeleur, lumière du jour pour tous les ouvriers, sauf le tailleur et le mocassin…”
    C’est énorme et quelle sagesse, merci pour cet article qui en plus de faire briller mes yeux, tant les illustrations et les explications ornent avec bonheur cet article de part en part, m’a en plus donné envie de faire de bonnes crêpes 😉 !!!
    Bonne journée et joyeuse chandeleur

    Liked by 6 people

  6. There is a portuguese traditon called Nossa Senhora das Candeias (name that I might translate as Our Lady of the Chandelier) celebrated on February 2nd when depending on that day’s weather one can tell how long until of the end of the Winter and the beginning of Spring and the beginning of life. But we do not have any Pancake tradition, I think I will “adopt” that one from now on!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. And in the US, it’s the day the groundhog does (or does not) see his shadow–if he doesn’t, early spring. If he does, six more weeks of winter. But I’ve never yet seen anything BUT six more weeks of winter, counting from Candlemas.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. That sounds like an amazing holiday!!

    Our February 2nd is Groundhog Day 🤨😄🙄… we stand outside a creatures den, wait for him to come out… and if he sees his shadow – he gets scared and runs back in his hole and we get 6 more weeks of winter 🤨 I don’t even get any pancakes for that!!

    Our tradition comes from having Europeans come to American with all their different beliefs and everything gets intertwined

    They took the February 2nd from Candlemas… and then some immigrants from Germany came and showed how animals can predict weather conditions? I have no idea but that’s what they say

    So then some newspaper guy had the brilliant idea of 1887 for this February 2nd groundhog weather prediction event lol … and there we have Groundhog Day for us lol

    I like yours better.

    I have heard of Candlemas… but I did not know anything about it until you just explained here 😘❤️

    Your tradition sounds WAY better than ours!! I would rather be inside eating pancakes with glorious candles and candlelight …

    Than waiting in the cold, outside some animals den, to see if he gonna be sacred or not. (and they named him too… Punxsutawney Phil 😄)

    The whole thing is like 2 minutes and then it’s done… is same thing every single year lol

    Your tradition sounds very beautiful. Both with the candles ❤️ I love candles – I have candles all over the place both at home and at work ❤️

    I also light candles for people I have lost. ❤️🙏

    So the candle part is very beautiful – and then you add pancakes ❤️ yup – you just sold me lol

    That sounds wonderful – delicious and sweet to fill belly and with beautiful candles

    I probably will not be putting a pancake in my bed lol ✌️but everything else I was down with lol

    That sounds like an awesome holiday!! ❤️

    I do remember “hearing” about “Candlemas” at some point … but it is not a thing over here… so I just never questioned. It was non existent in my world. Just a mention at some point in my life?

    So I knew it was a tradition of some sort – but I just wasn’t exposed

    Thanks always for sharing and enlightening ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you!! I agree, there is something quite soothing about candlelight and, hey, add in some fresh pancakes and one is good to go!! 😉
      I had heard of Groundhog Day (I think I have the movie to thank for that haha) but hadn’t realised exactly what it was. So, thank you for enlightening me on that one! 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Well I know yours is also gripped deep with tradition too, which makes it a little more beautiful? Because there is meaning or wishes behind it ❤️ – there are beliefs that made that tradition come to be… it’s just an added bonus it’s all really awesome things lol 😘 … yours has a beauty to it.

        Mine is hokey 🤨😄✌️… it is also spun out of beliefs – but more in a fun type way? It was to bring community together for something fun and they just intermingled their beliefs lol

        So it was fun time – but also gave a weather prediction for crops and such. The Farmers Almanac was a huge thing too.

        Ours was more about what to prepare to survive through lol … winter or spring – and gave it a fun little twist that became adored

        Yours is dreams on what they wish, or hope to be… what they pray for… how they ward off evil, or stay clear of it.

        Mine is survival 🤨 In hopes winter is over and if is not we have to prepare lol

        Your things will be a lot more classic than mine will be. You have rock solid history and traditions… you live in the epicenter of everything “once upon a time”. I would be floored with your history! I would be beside myself!

        The United States is new compared to what history Europe has! And ours is very different.

        We have so many different cultures that all melt in… “influences”

        Yours has a heavy religious belief background and influence … mine does not really, except for the large holidays like Christmas and Easter (I do my own thing religiously anyway)

        But with traditions and even religion – there is so many over here is hard for it not to have some influences.

        Just like when someone comes here – you get Americanized lol

        My grandfather was Irish… everything in his house, on his mind, in his heart was Irish Irish Irish lol

        He would sing Irish songs, eat Irish food, and very heavily kept his Irish traditions. He did NOT like melting in, but at the same time chose America over Ireland

        He had a severe pride for Ireland 🇮🇪💚… but loved the opportunities the United States offers

        He was severely Irish just living in America – his spirit was back in Ireland though 💚

        I still keep and remember his traditions and songs and all of that – it’s been awhile, and has faded some but I still keep a few I always loved ❤️🇮🇪❤️ I always remember

        Traditions are funny because they can be anything and any way? Depends on the religion OR culture

        Essentially they come to be because of influences and beliefs with things – right?

        Cause even a religious holiday is influenced by the beliefs of that religion

        Humans lol … funny these things we believe and hold on to ❤️

        I like to make new traditions too if is something that means something to me 😘❤️✌️

        But yours are very beautiful … what I love about your stories and informational posts is that they have such a solid historical richness to them ❤️

        Mine are all blended – my grandfathers were solidly rich like yours ❤️

        Liked by 5 people

      2. As you say, the USA is a melting pot of old traditions and customs that now have developed a distinctively American edge 😉 Its enormous size also must be a factor. In such a relatively small and stable area as Brittany or Ireland it is easier to see traces of the old beliefs.
        That said, most of the old traditions that I write about have disappeared but I find references to them here and there. I find them interesting and am really pleased that others do too! There’s an awful lot of fake folklore out there or beliefs that were unique to one area and that are now talked of as applying, inaccurately, to a much broader area or even different country entirely.
        You’re right, traditions are funny because of their uniqueness and their ability to tell us a lot about the beliefs of the people, long gone, who once held them.
        I really appreciate your continued support and encouragement! Again, thank you! 🙂

        Liked by 5 people

    1. Many thanks. I suppose they were a fairly easy to make meal and you could make then with just water if you had no milk? Yes, I noticed that too and relatively few depictions of the more traditional skillet or hot plate .. hmm. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Never a disappointing post, I never heard of this day. However I know how to make crepes, must admit my first try’s weren’t successful 😄 There is always superstitious meaning behind everything back then. The artwork is rich, also shows that the tradition was shared by all classes. Always an educational lesson.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I am pleased that you found it of interest! 🙂 Yes, you are right, there seems to have been some superstition or other attached to almost every aspect of daily life. Perhaps we just think these days that we have no need of them because we think we understand the how/why/where questions better?

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Many thanks! Yes, in some traditions, Christmas decorations stay up until Candlemas rather than Twelfth Night. I too am all for crepes but it is strange that that really is the only popular survivor of a whole host of traditions once associated with the day 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Love this ! In particular, I like the symbolism – lighting the candles – providing pure light, driving out the darkness. Literally as winter comes to an end and the Sun returns with lengthening days and figuratively as a symbol of life. I also like the practical, “When Candlemas comes, put away the spinning wheel and take the plough.” I look at this as writing season ending and hiking season beginning 🙂 Of course, I still write, but I’m always catching up in the Winter

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you! I am happy that you liked it! Yes, the symbolism of the candle driving back the dark of winter and representing the Light of the World is quite powerful. As you say, those old sayings make practical sense and I am glad that they resonate with you 😉 Have you got your Spring hikes lined up?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m afraid things will be a bit different this year. I’ll be staying local for the most part as I will be building a house. I still hope to get in a few hikes in the Midwest and maybe by September I’ll have some more time. We’ll see

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for saying so; I am pleased that you found it interesting. 🙂 I used the world Imbolg because that is what people now call the old February festival but it’s based on medieval Irish Gaelic which might be an accurate representation of what the ancient Celts called it or may be just what some scribe thought he heard!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh, okay. I just never heard of the word Imbolg and was wondering what was it? A lot of old world words aren’t used and a lot of old world customs aren’t celebrated in America. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Beltane or Beltain is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.

        Well, the fire part of this one is not practiced at all in America and for very good reason. May Day. May 1st was once celebrate when children as they wore bright colored clothing and plaited a long stripes of colorful paper or cloth around the May Pole. I have heard my grandparents talk about it.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Oh my..!! Such a fascinating article you have written.. 😊😊
    Till now I had pancakes because, well, they taste great.. But now I am introduced to a whole new world of beliefs and interesting customs of the Celtic People and Early Christians who arrives in Brittany. I knew about the Roman Festival of Lupercal, but never knew that it was replaced by Valentine’s Day. There are many pagan religious customs which were later Christianised, starting from 25th December (the Birth of Jesus Christ, only that it’s not on 25th December actually. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 6th January), and the Celtic festival of Samhain (which became Thanksgiving).. Its great to know so much about ancient cultures and their influence, which is present even to this day..!!
    Thank you so much Madam for sharing..!! Glad to be back for blogging.. 🙂
    Greetings to you and your family..!! 😊😊

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you!!! I am happy that you liked it! 🙂
      Yes, most of the ancient pagan festivals were given Christian feast days – either on the same day (as with Valentines) or near enough to supplant it (like Christmas). It made sense to do it that way as people do not like too much rapid change haha. As the old festivals were based on equinoxes and solstices, it does make you wonder how far back in time they were celebrated. I would imagine quite ancient. Thank for reading and stay well! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh yes, Indeed I liked it.. 😀
        Your explanation is spot on. Perhaps the slow and gradual Christianization of the ancient people and cultures is one reason why Christianity became acceptable to them.
        The ancient people did study a lot about geographical and astronomical phenomena. Maybe that explains quite a lot of the things like equinoxes, solstices as you mentioned. In India as well, there are still many festivals which were originally conceived because of geographical phenomena or nature like the onset of spring or harvest (Baisakhi festival), Van Mahotsava (for trees) etc.
        Thank you so much for your reply.. 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 4 people

      2. I agree, understanding nature and the need to ensure a good harvest were constant concerns for our ancestors. Worship and supplication would have helped them believe that their hard work might be duly rewarded 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Again, what an interesting article. Hard to say no to pancakes! And what a great assortment of pics. The little black cat waiting for the monk to drop his pancake could be my own Gremlin. Thanks for yet another great read!

    Liked by 5 people

  12. A fascinating article, reminding me of the English word Candlemas and so much more. Learning how so many Christian festivals were indeed created to supplant the pagan ones. I also must compliment you on your selection pictures that completed your festive pancake feast!

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Whew! I’m reading this post in time to still make crepes tomorrow. I try to remember this holiday and my family always appreciates it when I do. But this year, I would have forgotten. Fantastic assortment of pictures. Thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. This is a lovely tradition. It is fascinating how simple things such as candles and pancakes were so intricately woven into seasons to carry many meanings and predictions but also the practicality of using the previous years harvest ie; wheat, anticipating of the new crop . Your illustrations are being works if art Colin and the take expressed beautifully as always. This is a delight! x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words Holly, they are very much appreciated! I agree, there is something genuinely charming about the interwoven symbolism and practicality! 😉 I am very happy that you enjoyed the read!! 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. धन्यवाद! मैं भारत में कुछ वर्षों तक रहा और इसकी समृद्ध विरासत और त्योहारों से मुग्ध था। मुझे खुशी है कि आपने इसका आनंद लिया। 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  15. There are so many pancake stories in February! In the area south of Berlin people used to go from house to house during carneval season and collect eggs and money. (I think ‘zampern’ is a sorbian tradition.) With all the eggs they made pancakes the morning after the big party. Which today is probably just an exccuse to start drinking early (Frühschoppen) …
    Love the pictures you chose!

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: