Feb 04 2013

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no escaping crêpes, or ‘fat Tuesday’

I have just been to a delightful Candlemas crêpe party here in Paris, where I indulged in far more pancakes than I care to admit. Candlemas is such a lovely word, although seldom heard these days, and of course the French occasion, officially held  today Sunday 3rd February, is known as la Chandeleur.

I remember long ago in England celebrating ‘pancake day’, also known at the time as ‘Shrove Tuesday‘. We were told in those days that the tradition came from the need to use up eggs, flour, butter and sugar, before the 40 days of fasting (or avoiding cakes and all sweet foods) intended to absolve practitioners of their sins in the period leading up to Easter. The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of the Old English verb ‘to shrive’ meaning to do penance or to confess one’s sins. Shrove Tuesday was also referred to as mardi gras, or ‘fat Tuesday’.

I don’t believe we have a special ‘pancake day’ any longer in Australia, if we ever did, but I could be mistaken. Perhaps it still exists in certain traditional religious communities. But we certainly have ‘mardi gras’, as most Australians would know, and for other readers I’ll explain a little later.

In France, eating pancakes on this day seems to be quite widespread, and separate from any religious connotations, although I realise my knowledge on this is based on my small circle of French friends and acquaintances.

French Wikipedia, however, defines la Chandeleur (Candlemas) as a popular religious event, with pagan origins, notably among the Romans who lit candles on this feast day of Lupercus, god of fecundity. The Celts did similar things each year in honour of their goddess Brigit, to celebrate fertility and the waning of the winter.

As Europe became Christianised, this festival was grafted onto the one celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the temple on February 2nd, associated also with the ‘purification’ ceremony of Mary, a traditional ceremony for mothers 40 days after the birth of a child.

In many countries the mardi gras period has also always involved carnival. This in turn has become a time for gay rights parades, in particular in Australia with the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian mardi gras, this year from February 8 – March 3rd. This is one of the largest festivals in the world, and is a big tourism event, attracting attendances of hundreds of thousands.



Permanent link to this article: http://www.escapetoparis.com/2013/02/no-escaping-crepes-or-fat-tuesday/

1 comment

  1. Jo Schaffer

    How delightful to see “our ” little street at the top of your blog!As two voluntary temp exiles in Paris ( not really qualifying to be ex-pats) I share your enthousiasm for the Parisian life. Hope you continue to come here as long as it satisfies your inner appetite.
    bon appetit

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