Scattering Violets

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Crepes, Storytelling, and Candlelight: Candlemas Traditions in Switzerland

white candles on black surface


Candlemas is one of my favorite holidays. Similar in some ways to Imbolc, it’s a gentle holiday, illuminated by small flames that remind us of imminent spring, whatever the weather outside tells us. Winter, with its persistent cold and dark, is my husband’s least favorite season, and we’re in the middle of a Nor’easter as I write. Our section of Appalachia gets a bit of snow every winter, maybe an inch or so three or four times a season, but right now we’ve gotten a good three or four inches overnight, and a thick layer of ice is promised. In this 100-year-old house of ours, our heating system has to work extra-hard to keep us warm enough. Needless to say, he -- and, to a lesser degree, the rest of us -- are hoping for a little Candlemas magic to bring the winter to an early end.


In the Swiss Alps -- a mountainous region where snow is profligate and winter has long carried with it a level of dread (for more reason than we have, considering the threat of avalanches) -- Candlemas is a part of the Fasnacht cycle. Fasnacht is akin to Carnival and Mardi Gras, all reaching their peak at the end of February. Later in the month, masked parades that have been held since long before Christianity came to the region will proceed down dark village streets. These parades are meant to drive off the spirits of cold, disease, and the hungry wilderness, while stirring awake the spirits that bring spring and all its gifts: longer days, warmth, fertility of the earth and the creatures that walk upon it. In Swiss folklore, the fairies -- led by a fairy queen and often taking the form of flowers -- do endless battle with the frost giants, who send their children in the form of avalanches to destroy villages in the winter. At Candlemas, we hope the fairies, or fertility spirits, will gain some ground against the frost giants. Through our rituals, we support them with our spiritual power and material offerings. Masked and costumed jesters in the German areas of Switzerland traditionally bar-hop on Candlemas, performing comical dances and songs in troupes. This is a development of the long-held ritual of traveling maskers performing plays, ballads, and songs to usher in the spring.


In French-speaking countries, Candlemas is called La Chandeleur, and crepes and pancakes are traditional fare, golden and round like the sun. While making them, if you can hold a coin in your left hand while flipping the crepe in your right hand, and the crepe lands flat on its other side in the pan, then you’ll have prosperity throughout the year. Additionally, you might keep the first crepe on top of an armoire to ensure a good harvest and deter bad luck from the household (folklore promises that it won’t mold, but I’ve yet to test that dubious claim). It’s likely that this is meant as an offering for the household spirit, who is often associated with cupboards and other storage places throughout Europe. Pancakes, crepes, and similar flatbreads have a long lineage, originating as far back as the Stone Age -- they're a truly ancient food.


Ever since we began celebrating Candlemas, it’s been our tradition to eat a candlelit fondue dinner with vegetables, apples, and chunks of crusty bread. This year, I also plan to make a crepe cake layered with whipped cream, chocolate ganache, and a cherry pudding for dessert. I’d like to add a couple more traditions into the mix as well: after dinner, read aloud a story about the fertility spirits battling the frost giants; maybe sing some songs about spring and summer. (I can already hear us singing “Wild Mountain Thyme” around the table.) We’ll leave tea lights burning in the bay window overnight (safely nestled in my collection of fairy lamps), and in the morning, we’ll see what the groundhogs say about the remainder of the season.


Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, and spirit worker and traveler. Her work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans and Hagstone Publishing's Stone, Root, and Bone ezine. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  


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