Winter may not be the most obvious time to visit France unless, of course, you are hitting the ski slopes. However, there is plenty going on throughout the month of February – here’s our round-up of the key dates, events, and festivals.
February gets off to a flying start right at the beginning of the month, with La Chandeleur on February 2nd.
This festival is based on a Christian festival that marks the day when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple. It was originally called Candlemas, but it did have Pagan origins connected with the sun, light and, of course, candles (leschandelles), which later on, as the festival was subsumed into the Christian calendar, reminded us that Christ is the light.
This festival takes place after Epiphany. So, you’ve not long finished your Galette des Rois, then you can move on to eating crêpes! People traditionally made pancakes at this time of the year, and these pancakes symbolised the return of the sun after the long winter days.
The favourite pancake toppings in France are, of course, chocolate spread such as Nutella or a sprinkling of sugar – I have yet to find Golden Syrup anywhere! You can expect to see pancakes on sale in artisan boulangeries, in schools for lunch, in the office on La Chandeleur and, of course, in the home.
Top tip: our current gîte guest advised me to add a lug of Cognac to the batter, and it is sooo worth doing!
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is not long to wait after La Chandeleur and it arrives on February 10th. This year is the Chinese Year of the Wood Dragon. Supermarkets often sell some Chinese food products at this time. It is common to see ‘Nems’, which are more commonly known as spring rolls in anglophone countries, noodles, fried rice dishes, and dumplings for sale.
The best way to celebrate, if you love to cook, is to find a local Chinese specialist food store like the Thai Market in Soyaux, Angouleme and ask for advice. Or, visit one of France’s many Chinese buffet restaurants, such as O’Buffet in Angouleme, which has an ‘all you can eat’ deal every lunchtime.
Valentine’s Day, or La Fête de Saint Valentin takes place on February 14th and is celebrated around the world. France, being famous for romance, takes this day reasonably seriously, although it’s not quite the commercial affair it is in many anglophone countries.
Cards, as always, are not commonplace in France – it is more about the gestures of love. Lingerie displays are more apparent; flowers, bouquets, and exquisite pastries and chocolates are all geared towards a romantic purchase; and the restaurants all have ‘special’ Saint Valentin’s menus. Love is most definitely in the air!
Since moving to France, we have celebrated with a ‘love’ themed family meal – the children have been known to make heart-shaped pizzas and chocolate brownies. The table is decorated in red and pink, and we celebrate in style with a menu of their choice.
School holidays in February are designed for skiing. France is split into three zones for school holidays to avoid a crush with crowds. Every thrift and second-hand shop has a rack of ski wear and many French children know how to ski, whether they learnt on school ski trips, as our own children did, or with their parents.
Along with ski holidays goes mountain food, so expect to see the shops full of Tartiflette, Raclette and Fondue. For the uninitiated (as I once was), Tartiflette is reblochon cheese, bacon lardons, onion, garlic, and potatoes baked in an oven dish until soft and squidgy. It is served with crunchy bread and perhaps a green salad.
Raclette is a whole food theatre experience requiring a raclette machine, which is essentially a grill with tiny frying-type pans placed in the centre of your table. Meat platters, boiled potatoes, and plates of pre-sliced raclette cheese are provided by the host and each participant melts their own raclette cheese and meats in a pan before pouring it over their boiled potatoes. Eat and repeat! Our children LOVE it.
Fondue is not the preserve of the 1970s here. Chunks of vegetables or wedges of crispy bread dunked in cheesy goo is my idea of heaven, and it’s a very sociable dish to serve when friends come around.
The Mimosa Festival takes place on the beautiful Île d’Oléron, an island just south of La Rochelle, and is a weekend of festivities from the 16th to the 18th February. Musical concerts, brocantes, vide greniers (antiques and barn clearances/garage sales), plus street entertainment celebrate the blooming mimosa and the fact that spring is in the air. It is well worth a visit. Here, when our friends visit, they always bring us some blooming mimosa to brighten our home.
Spring carnivals and festivities
Watch out for your local events being advertised to herald the coming of spring and the promise of warmer days. For example, February sees the famous Nice Carnival and the Menton Lemon Festival.
What are you up to in France this February?
February is a time of looking forward to the coming of spring and a time to explore perhaps a lesser-known side to this beautiful country and its traditions or, of course, to go skiing.
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