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The Loveliness of Candlemas – La Chandeleur

January 29, 2007

Chers Amis,

For most Georgians, February 2 is all about General Beau Lee and his shadowy weather forecasting abilities.  Will he see his shadow?  Will we remain in winter’s frigid grip for another 6 wks? Stay tuned –  News and video at 6! Honestly, I didn’t know much about Groundhog Day or Candlemas until I saw  at Elizabeth’s Real Learning that there was going to be a Loveliness of Candlemas Fair hosted by Suzanne at Blessed Among Men.  If you haven’t already, please take a moment and read some of the beautiful entries she has collected.  Warning, after a visit you will definitely want to plan a shopping trip to buy beeswax and or new tapers by Friday. Out with the ground hog – in with the candles!

After a bit of reflection on this feast day, a bougie went off in my mind.  I had celebrated Candlemas before, not in Georgia, not as part of my Catholic journey, but in France at the home of a dear friend.  Unfortunately she was back in Paris at school, but I and two traveling companions feted  La Chadeleur – Candlemas avec ses parents! In France la Chandeleur is a feastChandeleur_crepes all about
crêpes.  According  to tradition, Pope Gélase I, who helped establish La Chandeleur, fed pilgrims these round delicacies.  I have fond memories of eating crepes and sampling a grand selection of eau  de vie – colorless brandies distilled from fruit juices with a fire blazing in the hearth.  There was much laughter as according to tradition one has to flip the first crepe on to the top of an armoire.  Then you must flip the rest of the crepes while holding a gold coin in your other hand to bring good luck.  I don’t remember having much success with the flipping – but it was a magical evening.  This year we will be having both sweet and savory crepes for La Chandeleur a notre moulin.  I don’t know what General Beau Lee will eat.

Curious about the holiday, I also googled Candlemas and was fascinated by both the liturgical feast of the Presentation and the underlying pagan traditions marking the half-way point between the darkness of the winter solstice and the rebirth of spring in the March equinox.  This juxtaposition reminded me of a particular lecture from my college days.  One of my favorite anthropology/archeology classes ever was "The Anthropology of Religion" in which we discussed just that – religion as a human need and expression of the search for the divine.  Awesome class. The idea that stuck most in my then generic Protestant mind was(paraphrased),"One of the beauties of the Catholic Church is that it is like a sponge.  It has been able to absorb the native culture and keep it’s integrity through the centuries."  I don’t know if my professor actually had a sponge in his hand, but I can still imagine him  him with a blue Cello, sitting on a table, lecturing to the class. Of course he elaborated on how the Church had worked with the different cultures She encountered to integrate the Christianity with existing traditions and holidays while giving them different or new significance.  (Think All Souls and Halloween, or Christmas and Saturnalia.)

It was later that year, I was lucky enough to go to France to study.  Two fellow students and I and made a three-week loop through Gaul before school started with a wonderful stop in les Landes for La Chandeleur.
( NOTE:  most guide books are written for summer travelers.  Just because it says there is a bus from the train station to Mont St. Michael,  check first.  It is a LONG WALK – 1O COLD! kilometers to le mont. Le_puy_1Enchanting, but not in January. Note to self: Someone needs to write a winter guide.)  By providence or chance, that winter we saw many major pilgrimage sites as we made our circuitous route through France.  I saw first hand some of the integration/absorption that my professor had spoken about.  Here is a picture of a pilgrimage site in Le Puy-en-Velay . It is a starting-point for the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.  At the top is a shrine to the Blessed Mother.  Originally it was a temple – to Mercury – or one of the Roman gods and before that the location of a tall standing stone.  Fascinating.  When I grow up, maybe I will go back to school and take that class again. 

— Marjorie

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 31, 2007 6:34 am

    Cher Marjorie, you are blessed to have had so many rich experiences. We are ALL blessed–both your blog readers and your children–because you are so very good at describing them.

    And I agree, the memories made in La France are magical.

    A lovely post. Merci.

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