Candlemas, 2 February, is fast approaching.
Candlemas falls forty days after Christmas, and is a religious festival that celebrates Mary’s purification and the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Because Jesus has often been referred to as ‘the Light of the world’, then somewhere along the way he became associated with candles, which for centuries were the only form of lighting. There are possibly pagan roots to this festival, and the Gaelic Imbolc and Roman Lupercalia have both been put forward as candidates. But whatever its origin, this little festival coming along roughly halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox brings a bit of jolliness and is a reminder that the darkest part of the year is nearly over.
In Provence it’s traditional to go to church to get a candle blessed, and then return home with the candle lit. If it goes out on the journey, then that’s a really bad omen apparently. However, even if your candle does get quenched en route you can cheer yourself up with some St Victor Navettes, a regional festive specialty. These are boat-shaped biscuits named after the St Victor Abbey in Marseilles, and represent the boats that were said to have carried the three Saint Marys to local shores, and thereby Christianity. These three Marys were Mary of Clopas (sometimes Cleophas), Mary Salome and Mary Magdalene. All three women are mentioned in the Bible as being at Christ’s crucifixion. I suspect there isn’t much truth in the legend of them deciding to hop in a boat together to sail off to France, but it’s an interesting one.
Candle blessing happens in a lot of places and there are candlelit processions too. Most people, however, make do with placing a candle in a window and eating pancakes. If you hold a coin in your hand while cooking your pancake, then that’s meant to ensure a wealthy and happy year lies ahead. I shall have to give that a go this Saturday!
Bugnes are a popular food item too. These are more doughnutty than pancakey, and are deep fried. Lyons is particularly famous for its crunchy bugnes, which are elsewhere known as ‘angel’s wings’. I can’t see much of a resemblance myself since this type of bugne looks like a twisted ribbon. You can get softer ‘pillow’ bugnes too, that are made from a thicker dough and are ball-shaped. Francois Rabelais mentions bugnes in the first book of his famous satirical pentalogy of novels ‘The Life of Gargantuan and Pantagruel’, written in 1532. However, the delicacy dates back much further than that, to Roman times.
There are lots recipes for bugnes on the Internet. My search returned 61,000 items so there should be one there somewhere that appeals.
I’ve discovered that snowdrops are sometimes known as Candlemas bells, which is a rather sweet name. The snowdrops in our garden have long since given up the unequal struggle against hens having dust baths over them and the cats sleeping on top of them. However, there are many wild ones to be seen in ditches and woods, and that’s a cheering sight at this dismal time of year.
Generally Candlemas seems to be about cheering ourselves up at the time of year when the weather’s awful, summer isn’t even on the horizon yet and the drudgery of post-Christmas life is making itself felt again. So get out some candles and unhealthy ingredients and celebrate!
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