The area where I live at the moment in the south-west of France is predominantly Catholic so the celebration of Mardi Gras (known in the United Kingdom as Shrove Tuesday) and the beginning of Lent, which leads up to Easter, is very important here. I had always associated Mardi Gras with pancakes and so I was surprised to hear, after making myself some crêpes, that I was in fact a week late! Apparently, the closest thing to Pancake Day in this area is 'la Fête de la Chandeleur', celebrated on the 2nd of February, 40 days after Christmas. Originally a religious celebration dating back to Roman times, this day has many superstitions and proverbs surrounding it. For example, if you flip a pancake on this day with one hand while holding a gold coin in the other hand, you will be prosperous for the rest of the year. Also, a friend told me that if it rains on the 2nd of January, it will rain for forty days and nights without stopping. I come from Scotland so I told her that that sounded like summer! So, if you can’t eat pancakes on Mardi Gras what qualifies it to be named Fat Tuesday?! I discovered the answer at my local bakery - beignets. Beignets are pastries made from deep fried choux pastry coated in powdered sugar and filled with apricot or other fruit jams ... or, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, Nutella! They are delicious!
Another amazing aspect of life here at this time of year is that it is Carnival time! Carnival has been celebrated in this area since 1480 despite periods of it being banned by the church for being a pagan ritual. It has become a very important celebration at this time of year which people of all ages get involved in. In schools, all of the teachers and pupils get dressed up for the afternoon and parade through the village centre throwing paper confetti. Also a handmade mascot is taken on the procession too and is then burned to represent the purging of greedy human nature. The children and adults absolutely love the opportunity to go all out with their costumes and take part in this amazing local tradition. As a visitor to this country I was amazed by this beautiful tradition and by seeing all the joy and fun it brings to people who take part.