The excitement is palpable. Every year in February, as spring seems within reach, children have only one word in mind: Crepes! As you probably know, crepes are very different to American pancakes. There are as many types as there are French regions, sweet or savoury, with orange blossom oil or flambee, they are always thin and delicious. That’s why in France there is not only one, but two Crepe Days: La Chandeleur and Mardi Gras!
La Chandeleur is a time of festivities which originates in the celebration of the presentation of Christ in the temple, 40 days after His birth. The tradition has been replaced by Groundhog Day in North America.
Carnaval de Nice which occurs every year in February.La Chandeleur marks the start of the Carnival Period, which will end with Mardi Gras. Carnival comes from Latin carnelevare, which means “suppress meat”, as it will be followed by 40 days of fasting prior to Easter. Provence is once again on the map, since one of the world’s 3 major carnivals is the
But let’s get back to school, where the pre-primary children have prepared their own carnival for several weeks, practicing dances, songs, and working at their costumes. The best-known carnival character is certainly Arlequin, with his colourful diamond-shaped outfit and his hat, which can be a bicorn, a cap or a jester hat. Let’s not forget the black mask, because carnival is all about masks, about forgetting the winter’s privations.
There is also Polichinelle, whose public fame is constantly reinforced by a nursery rime that goes as follows:
Monte à l’échelle
Un peu plus haut
Se casse le dos
Un peu plus bas
Se casse le bras
Casse un barreau
Et tombe dans l’eau.
(Polichinelle climbs the ladder, a bit higher breaks his back, a bit lower breaks his arm, breaks a bar and falls in water)
With his white clothes and crow-like nose, Polichinelle is a facetious figure originating from Italy. The puppet characterised by a hump, a fat belly and a sharp, high-pitched voice is often pictured as a rural valet. He is simple, rude, clever, disgraceful and greedy. Now you know why the kids love him so much.
On Mardi Gras, all the children parade through the village, class by class, in farandoles, songs and rhymes and under colourful confettis. They have gathered on the village’s main square for more celebrations, and maybe a puppet show involving Arlequin and Polichinelle. Depending on where you are, crepes may have been replaced with beignets (deep-fried choux paste, mmmmmh!).