When I was researching my post for Shrove Tuesday/ Mardi Gras/ Fat Tuesday/ Pancake Day/ Gumbo Because We’re Southerners and This is Practially Louisiana Anyway Day, I was shocked to learn that France has two “Pancake Days” related to the Catholic liturgical calendar. I’ll try to simplify it for you.
After Christmas (Christ’s birthday), there’s Epiphany (the day the Wise Men actually showed up to the manger). A few days later there’s a feast called Chandeleur (Candlemas) which celebrates the newborn Christ being presented to the temple in Jerusalem. None of these dates are scientific of course, they’re just approximations to parcel out the story of Christ for the general populace. Chandeleur (Candlemas) is usually held during the darkest and coldest time of the year, and as Christ is viewed as the “Light of the World,” priests would bless all of the candles in the home on that date. Might as well try to multitask while we’re at Mass, right?
Our best guess as to the link between pancakes and Chandeleur (Candlemas) is the decision in the Fifth Century by the Pope to give out pancakes to the poor, the round food meant to resemble the sun. Since Catholics started to observe the forty days of Lent before Easter Sunday, the started to give up luxuries including flour and fat (later sugar when it became more affordable in Europe) during those forty days. To avoid wasting them from spoilage, all of the flour had to be consumed at the eleventh hour, which lead to Shove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. It was a race to eat the last of your supplies.
For reasons I’m still not sure of, the French decided to have two days of panicked eating, use-it-or-lose-it days, Mardi Gras and Chandeleur (Candlemas). Maybe they were being more responsible with their food supplies. Maybe there had more good recopies to try out. In true French fashion, they didn’t stop with run of the mill pancakes. Oh no, they did not! They decided to include the fluffy crepes, beignets and waffles while they were at it.
See it in action on You Tube: