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2018-02-07 / Columnists

Just Bill

France, America Share Two February Holidays
Musings from the Mind of Bill Diem

France and America share a couple of important holidays.

The most important is Valentine’s Day, of course. It has the same meaning in both countries. Think about Love. Our tradition is to go out to dinner as a couple, helping a restaurant make it through winter.

The 2008 recession lasted a long time in France, although it was never as bad as it was in that first year in the United States. And when people are on a tight budget for a long time, one of the things they cut out is having a meal in a restaurant. So going out on February 14 is a way of helping others.

In our early years here, we had a restaurant run by a husband and wife, the Viels. She cooked, and he ran the dining room.

Monsieur Viel was a character. He had very conservative political opinions, and we suspected that he belonged to France’s extreme right party. Then there was the time that he defended someone from a guy who came out of nightclub next door. The guy knifed him out in the street, but he was the good guy in the story.

Anyway, on Valentine’s Day he remade the dining room so that all the tables were for two people. He didn’t accept any other reservations. It was fun to go there, which we did on February 14 until he retired. He gave us two napkins embroidered with the restaurant name when we had our last meal with him the day he closed.

The building was taken over by a crêperie after he left. Crêpes are those thin, plate-sized pancakes the French are known for. Until McDonalds invaded Paris, crêpes were French fast food.

The crêperie is all right, but we don’t eat there very often, even though it’s close by. The owner likes to invent new fillings for his crêpes, and we like classic ones. And he likes to turn the tables over, while we like hanging out longer.

After he rejected the idea of letting our village bicycle club take over the back room for a whole evening, I lost interest in the place.

But thinking of crêpes brings me to the second February holiday that France almost shares with the United States. When Americans look for groundhogs on February 2, in France we eat crêpes.

The holiday is called Chandeleur, or Candlemas in British English. I don’t think I ever heard of it when I lived in Michigan and Ohio. This was another pagan holiday that was taken over by the church.

Churchwise, February 2 is considered to be the day that Jesus was presented to the temple. The local.fr Website suggests that “Chandeleur stemmed from several pagan traditions celebrating the fertility of the earth and the beginning of the end of winter.”

What makes me think that this holiday is the same as Groundhog Day is an old French saying: “Quand il pleut pour la Chandeleur, il pleut pendant quarante jours.” When it rains on Chandeleur, it will rain for 40 more days.

It rained.

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