La chandeleur is the festival of chandelles / candles ; it falls on the 2nd of February each year (40 days after Christmas) and that is when we, French people, eat pancakes. The tradition is a little strange and tirée par les cheveux / far fetched -as we say- as it apparently dates from the Middle Ages and the pagan rites associated with days becoming longer and lighter. The pancake/ la crêpe, as a little golden circle, is believed to represent the sun.
I remember well tossing pancakes/ faire sauter les crêpes when I was a little girl, with the pan/ la poelle in one hand and a coin / une pièce in the other. I remember the tradition was -some families still do it- to hold a golden coin, a golden Louis, to bring good luck to the household. The batter, a simple affair with milk, flour, eggs and sugar, would invariably be flavoured with Grand-Marnier…. and it was de-li-cious!! At home, we tended to eat les crêpes with sugar / du sucre, or maybe jam / de la confiture. The English sugar and lemon / sucre et citron favorite is virtually unseen in France. Today, it seems (see the link below) that cheese and ham / fromage et jambon for savoury pancakes and Nutella for the sweet ones, are the new family favourites.
Another custom often associated with pancake-eating for la chandeleur is cider/ le cidre, for that is how les Bretons / people from Britanny, enjoy their crêpes! And they drink it in little bowls, and call the whole experience la bolée. Pancakes are nearly considered a special regional dish over there. In fact, les Bretons have developed pancake-making into a culinary affair and crêperies / pancake eateries can be seen everywhere in Haute and Basse-Bretagne. Menus usually put you in appetite with savoury crêpes, made from buckwheat / sarrasin, as well as sweet ones, simply made from wheat / froment. All equally delicious!
Let’s not forget the crêpe suzette of course, prepared with an orange, lemon and Grand-Marnier butter….. then flambée! This one is reknown the world over. Its’ invention is sometimes attributed to the illustrious chef Auguste Escoffier (late 19th century), at other times to a simple waiter, Henri Charpentier, who had the important job of serving the British monarch, Edward VII in a restaurant of Monte-Carlo, one day in the late 19th century. But who was Suzette (a diminutive of Suzanne) ? No-one is quite sure either…..
Strangely, the British have adopted another date for eating pancakes…… It falls at the end of February, or in March and is determined by when Easter is. It is called Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras and that is when, in past times, people would eat up all their eggs and fat before the next day, Ash Wednesday / le Mercredi des Cendres, when a period of repentance, Lent / le Carême, would start. In France, Mardi Gras is not associated with pancakes but rather with dressing up and partying, it is le Carnaval / Carnival.
A little bit of background on the pancake tradition :
A beautiful demonstration of crêpe suzette preparation at the Ritz :