From my point of view, the French believe in celebrating. Every month and sometimes more often, it seems, there is some kind of ritual that calls for making special foods and having fun. I suppose the cynical would say that it’s just an excuse for selling cakes and chocolates at the boulangeries-pâtisseries. I see it more as a philosophy that rejoices in the small things in life. In the five weeks that we’ve been here, there have already been several of these types of occasions.
Many of the current feasts are based on pagan and Christian rituals of the past. Take la Fête des rois, for instance. Once a religious event commemorating the Epiphany or the three Magi’s visit to the Christ Child, the celebration is now non-denominational. No longer simply reserved for dessert on January 6th, the galette des rois which accompanies the occasion is available in bakeries all month long. This flaky torte is made of puff pastry layered with almond paste. As part of the tradition, a bean or small porcelain favor is normally baked inside and whoever finds it becomes the king or queen of the day’s festivities.
Quickly following the feast of the Three Kings comes la Chandeleur, based for one on the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Each February 2nd–far from our groundhog idea—French custom dictates that families make crêpes for dessert. While flipping the skillet holding the thin pancake with one hand, you’re supposed to hold a coin in the other. If you can perform the maneuver catching the crêpe in the pan, it is said that you’ll have prosperity all year long.
As luck would have it, we were in Lyon this year for Valentine’s Day, February 14th. Known as the gastronomical capital of France, the city offered us many delicious choices for lunch and dinner. Besides that, the two big chocolatiers on Cours Franklin Roosevelt—Bernachon and Tourtiller—had their front windows full of all kinds of tasty treats for your Valentine. Cakes, tarts, and chocolates were all arranged beautifully and temptingly to celebrate the occasion.
And there are plenty more celebrations to come. We’re into the Lenten season now and that means that Easter can’t be that far behind. With Easter come lots of chocolate eggs and chocolate bells which replace our bunnies. Either way, bells or bunnies bringing eggs are unique ideas! On April 1st it’s a favorite of school children: poisson d’avril. This is like our April Fools' Day, but with the twist of putting paper fish on someone else’s back. With this celebration, the pastry shops will be filled with chocolate fish! Amusing and delicious!