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All They Do Around Here is Eat

Galette des Rois, a month of Crêpes, Pain, Amour et Chocolat, Le Jour de la Saint-Valentin, and Carnival in Nice

overcast 10 °C

I am always amazed yet totally convinced that the French above all else LOVE to eat. Thus, there are many festivals that come along in January and February like nobody's business. One only needs to look at what's for sale in the French bakeries to discover which festival or special holiday is coming up next.

After the crazy and indulgent nature of les fêtes or the Christmas holidays, which begin in early December until Christmas and continue through New Year's Day, one would expect things to settle down a bit in January. In the US, everybody goes on a diet as part of their New Year's resolutions, and puts away his or her credit cards for awhile right? Perhaps this is not the case in France.

Galette des Rois
Photo Credit: http://tartines.fr

I do remember vaguely that some people I know celebrate Epiphany or King's Day, which I always thought was just an excuse to stretch Christmas gift-giving into the month of January. Yes, indeed, the 12 days of Christmas, a partridge in a pear tree, and all the stuff that comes with it. In fact, an epiphany is an appearance or manifestation, especially of a god. In western Christianity, Epiphany is a festival to mark the arrival of the three Wise Men to see Baby Jesus, on the twelfth day following his birth.

The French despite their supposedly laic or secular nature, have a saint for every day of the year and seem to follow a lot of other religious holidays, too, which always translates to good eating. So, on January 6 in France, they mark the arrival of the three wise men with the eating of a very special king cake, similar to the cake that is popular elsewhere as a Mardi Gras tradition. There are two main types of French king cake actually, the gâteau des Rois made of brioche and topped with candied fruit, and the galette des Rois, which is made of golden puffed pastry filled with frangipane or almond cream - YUM! Supposedly the brioche cake is more traditional to Provence and southern France, but we definitely have both types here, and I think the almond cake is much better. Sometimes they even have apple versions too. Again, YUM!

The three "galettes"
Photo Credit: http://tartines.fr

Galette with traditional gold crown
Photo Credit: Flickr Keepps

The best part of the galette des Rois is the little trinket tucked somewhere inside the cake. Originally, the prize was a fève or fava bean. Later, it became more fashionable to use porcelain figurines depicting people, animals or other objects. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes a king or queen for a day. And the amazing people who collect these fèves or trinkets?! They are known as fèvophiles or bean collectors.

La jersiaise! Jersey cow fève
Photo Credit: Flickr Yuichi

Check out this French collector's site La Fabophilie to see some of the beautiful and strange fèves like the tooth, the baby in a bean or the shrimp! Isn't it a bit creepy to put a tooth in a cake?! Luckily the site points out that the tooth isn't real. Whew!

We did have a galette des Rois the weekend after Epiphany. According to tradition, the youngest person at the table cuts and serves the cake, and always cuts an extra slice for the poor. In our case, Uncle Jo the eldest rather than I the youngest served the cake, and not only that, but I was served last! Nevertheless, I was lucky and I won the prize! It was a porcelain Smurf trinket, which I thought was completely random at the time. How on earth do you know what to expect to find in these cakes? Then again, when I was little, I absolutely loved the Smurfs, so I was pretty happy with my fève. I think I will start collecting these little trinkets too, which translates to eating a lot of cake.

My precious Smurf fève

Oh and Eric ended up being the "poor" - the recipient of the last extra slice of cake!

Crêpes for La Chandeleur
Photo Credit: http://www.goosto.fr

February 2 and really the whole month of February is crêpe month in France, to celebrate La Chandeleur or Candlemas Day. Candlemas occurs 40 days after Christmas and originally marked the practice of a priest blessing church candles for use throughout the year. La Chandeleur dates back to even older pagan celebrations during Roman times honoring the god of fertility Lupercus and marking the change in seasons, but today in France, appears to be just an excuse to eat crêpes.

Being from Pennsylvania in the United States, I was very interested to discover that La Chandeleur is on the same day as our famous Groundhog Day, which actually developed from an old Pennsylvania Dutch or German tradition of celebrating, well Candlemas Day! Apparently the Germans watched for a badger's shadow, which the Pennsylvanians replaced with a groundhog or woodchuck, apparently due to lack of badgers.

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org

From an old German saying:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

Groundhog Day is most famously celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with the annual appearance of "Punxsutawney Phil," a darling little critter who never seems to age. The annual town event includes fireworks and an "Inner Circle" of men wearing top hats who are authorized groundhog handlers. This event became even more popular after the release of the movie Groundhog Day in 1993.

Punxsutawney postcard
Photo Credit: http://www.stormfax.com

Groundhog Day 2012
Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Snow in Roquefort-les-Pins

Since it snowed right around Groundhog's Day, which is rare for southern France, I am guessing that any groundhogs seeing their shadow here predicted six more weeks of winter.

Back to the crêpes. According to tradition, the crêpes must be eaten after 8pm, and if the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured to have prosperity throughout the coming year.

Eric demonstrates the proper tools and ingredients for crêpe-making

Time to flip the crêpe

Now my turn

I didn't bother holding the coin as flipping the crêpe was difficult enough

Many yummy toppings exist for crêpes, including sugar, lemon, Nutella, Grand Marnier, maple syrup, fruit and whipped cream

The traditional topping is a bit of sugar (in the shape of a cat's paw) and a squeeze of lemon

or maybe some local honey

Then you either roll or fold the crepes, and enjoy!

Mmm fancy dessert crêpes
Photo Credit: Flickr Theqspeaks

Photo Credit: http://fr.wikipedia.org

Moving on to Le Jour de La Saint-Valentin, or Valentine's Day, which Eric celebrates by going skiing, usually with me but this time without me!

Eric freezing in Geneva, en route to the slopes
Photo Credit: Cecile Chavanne

Pain Amour et Chocolat festival
Photo Credit: http://www.amourchocolat.fr

So I celebrated Valentine's Day by going to a little Italian festival in nearby Antibes called Pain, Amour et Chocolat - bread, love and chocolate. In that order I guess.

It was cold and windy and yes they were selling chocolate and also bread, mostly in the form of pizza, but there weren't really that many manifestations of love. Considering that the French are supposedly the world's experts on love, lingerie, and the eating - and drinking - of chocolate and other things, Valentine's Day or Le Jour des Amoureux in France is rather disappointing.

There are few if any decorations to be found, no little boxes of cartoon Valentines to give out at school and no heart-shaped sugar cookies in the bakeries! Although you can find chocolates for sale, and the flower vendors do go out in full force selling the traditional red, pink and white roses and other flowers on the actual day.

Special flowers for Valentine's Day

With the usual stuffed bird, which is obviously very romantic

Will you be my Valentine?

Another special Valentine present

Meanwhile, Kitty gets a postcard from Eric

Carnival parade in Nice, France
Photo Credit: http://www.nicecarnaval.com

Which brings us to the epitome of the classic French feast, the Carnival celebration and Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday," which is also known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day (remember, we're still eating crepes here during the entire month of February). The origin of the term "Fat Tuesday" supposedly comes from an old custom of parading a fattened ox through the streets.

More recently, Mardi Gras refers to eating and partying royally the day before the beginning of Lent, which is 40 days of prayer and fasting before Easter, the next big holiday, at which point French people begin eating a lot again. Mardi Gras falls during the Carnival celebration period, and is celebrated in many countries around the world.

The Nice Carnival is the oldest in France and one of the largest in the world, with over one million visitors annually. The processions occur day and night for weeks, with flower-covered floats and thousands of musicians and dancers from all over the world.


Carnival flower parade and flower throwers
Photo Credit: http://www.nicecarnaval.com

There are also very lively "flower battles" along the Promenade des Anglais, in which the participants throw out more than a hundred thousand flowers to the spectators. There are also street vendors selling food and gifts, and at the end of Carnival, a huge fireworks display set to music over the Baie des Anges.

The 2012 Carnival theme is the "King of Sport," a reference to the 2012 London Olympics as well as to the sporting "dynamism" of Nice, France.

Voila the King of Sport mascot
Photo Credit: http://www.nicecarnaval.com

I think he looks better on the float, especially with his spouse "Queen Gymnast"
Photo Credit: http://www.nicematin.com

Carnival dancers - doesn't the one in the center look just like Kate Middleton?
Photo Credit: http://www.nicematin.com

During Carnival, there is also the Fête de Citron or Lemon Festival, the "multi-colored festival under the sun" in nearby Menton, France. The festival is known for its many exciting parades and displays of golden fruit!

Menton lemons and oranges

Fête de Citron parade float
Photo Credit: http://www.nicematin.com

Lemon liqueur for sale

This year's theme focused on the different regions of France, and included the Eiffel Tower and Paris metro, a windmill and wooden shoe, and a mermaid by a lighthouse.

Lemon house and Palais de l'Europe

A lemon and orange lighthouse, and what's that next to it?

A creepy crêpe lady! Note the Grand Marnier bottle

The Eiffel Tower

Lemon champagne!

Eric liked the champagne

Lemon family

And here's a lemon lady with her "wooden" shoe

Cold (or hot?!) lemonade for sale

Time for a kiss

Parisian restaurant scene – some of these characters were really creepy

Speaking of restaurants... off to the Grand Marnier booth

Crêpe chef

Menton is a classic seaside town

And after all that crêpe-eating, it was naptime for the weary

Posted by jlamarre 20:44 Archived in France Tagged parties festivals living_abroad lemons Comments (1)

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