A brand of lighters at the origin of the French Father’s Day

Father’s Day, a celebration that goes back to the Middle Ages

Sunday, June 17, 2012, French children will celebrate Fête des Pères  – Father’s Day and will offer paper neckties and bowties, pencil holders and frames made with love with the re-used cardboard of their cereal boxes or will simply spend a large amount of their pocket money in the many gift shops that offer already made and expensive gifts.

Father’s Day is not a recent invention as it was already celebrated during the Middle Ages in many Catholic countries including France. But it was celebrated on March 19, the day of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

Father’s Day re-invented by a brand of lighters

This religious festival was lost over the generations to re-emerge in the 20th century.
Unlike Mother’s Day, which was established to celebrate women of course but also to encourage them to repopulate France after the two world wars, the Fête des Pères was re-invented for purely commercial reasons by a Breton brand of lighters!
Yes, I said a Breton brand of lighters called Flaminaire!

Father's Day gift - paper tie

Father's Day gift - paper tie

Flaminaire commercialised the first conventional lighters in 1908. The lighter, first a luxury object, never ceased to evolve and its use became widespread during the First World War.

At the end of the Second World War consumer society was booming and people discovered the concept of gifts, a move that quickly became a social obligation. As in those times most men smoked, offering a lighter to their Dads for Father’s Day became a standard practice for children. Luminaire invested into a large scale advertising campaign, thus creating the habit of offering a lighter to men.

Father’s Day was instituted in 1952, two years after Mother’s Day became an official celebration, but has never been formalized, even if it is celebrated each year on the third Sunday of June!

In addition to the various gifts, it is also a tradition to offer roses, the symbol flower of Father’s Day but there is a code to follow. Red roses are offered to a father who is alive, and white roses are placed on the grave of a deceased Dad.

Many detractors see in Father’s Day, which is an unofficial celebration, the expression of abusive and tacky marketing and they could be right but Father’s Day celebration is an integral part of our culture and traditions and is primarily an opportunity to show our love and affection to our Dads.

Wishing a Happy Father’s Day to all the French Dads and the others.


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June 15, 2012 2 comments

25th May, Argentina’s Emancipation from Spain

The last week of May, known as Semana de Mayo, marks the anniversary of the declaration of Argentina’s emancipation from Spain in 1810 (Independence was declared on 9th July, 1816). Today the country celebrates its 202nd birthday (with a rather big cake to fit all those candles, I should think). The actual deed took place on the 25th but significant events took place in the preceding days –and years.

Cabildo Abierto by Pedro Subercaseaux, 1908

Let’s go back in time to the 18th century. The Spanish Empire had many colonies throughout the Americas (it even included Texas, California and Florida at one point). The Portuguese also has colonies in South America in what is now Brazil. Spain and Portugal were on and off at war and the colonies mirrored what happened in Europe.

In order to protect its territory better, Portugal created the Viceroyalty of Brazil in 1763. Spain felt threatened but it took thirteen years for the Empire to create the Viceroyalty of the River Plate in 1776  to curb the advance of the Portuguese in Spanish territory. Buenos Aires (or Santa Maria de los Buenos Ayres as was then) was declared capital city.

Cut to 1806. On 27th June, a British fleet led by Sir Home Popham invaded Buenos Aires, unbeknownst to the British government. The invasion was short-lived as the invaders were expelled in August. Another expedition, led by William Carr Beresford and approved by the Crown, disembarked in Buenos Aires on 16th June, 1807 and took the city. A mix of Spanish soldiers and criollo (Spanish Americans of European descent born in the colonies) militiamen expelled the enemy forces a month later. The main reason for the failed invasions was to find new markets after Napoleon closed European ports to British products.

Meanwhile, things in Spain weren’t going well. Napoleon invaded the country and deposed King Ferdinand VII. The Empire was in a critical state of affairs. Back in the Viceroyalty, there were some criollos who felt they were ready for independence. After all, they had managed to repel an enemy invasion almost without any help from Spain and gave them a more prominent role.

When news reached the River Plate, a cabildo abierto (an assembly of the most prominent citizens) was called in order to decide where their allegiance lay. On 22nd May the cabildo abierto decided to put an end to the viceroy’s authority over the River Plate. On 23rd May, they tried to find a balance between two opposite positions and a Junta was created, with Viceroy Cisneros as its head along with two nationalists and two moderates. They didn’t get enough support and Cisneros resigned on the 24th.

Buenos Aires Cabildo (town hall) today

In the morning of the 25th groups of citizens got together at what is now called Plaza de Mayo (Mayo Square), outside the Cabildo, to demand a new Junta without loyalists. The pressure exerted by these groups along with that of the militia resulted in the Primera Junta, the first ever all-criollo government.

Nowadays, 25th of May is a national holiday marked by a Te Deum, a thanksgiving service held in every cathedral in the country and the president chooses which one to attend -a different city every year. It is customary to prepare traditional Argentinean dishes like locro or carbonada and wash down churros and pastelitos with hot chocolate. That has always been my favourite part of this significant day.


My mother's locro


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May 25, 2012 3 comments

April Frost and Three Saints known as Lune Rousse and Saints de Glace in France

April Frost – Lune Rousse

In France April Frost is known as Lune Rousse (Ginger Moon). It corresponds to the New Moon that starts after Easter, generally between April 5 and May 5, and lasts of course for the entire cycle of the moon. In 2012 April Frost will last from April 21 to May 20!

Night frost and cold winds are normally paired with this phase which is bad news for gardeners as new shoots get frost –damaged if not protected at night.

French calendar , 11-12-13 May 2011, the Three Saints days are marked with a small SG*, Note that Ste Rolande has been replaced by Fete de jeanne D'Arc

French calendar: 11-12-13 May 2012 with the Saints de Glace marked with a small SG*


May 11, 2012 4 comments

Maria Adelaide de Bragança van Uden, a Heroic Portuguese Princess in World War II

Her code name in the O5 Austrian resistance group in World War II was “Mafalda”, but in reality she was Her Serene Highness, the Portuguese Princess, Maria Adelaide de Bragança. During the war she escaped two death sentences by the Gestapo and being sent to Siberia by the Soviets.


March 14, 2012 2 comments

The Bouquinistes-Book Sellers along the Seine River

Bouquinistes, a trade that goes back to the Middle-Ages and is unique to Paris

The story has it that a boat transporting loads of books sunk near Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The sailors swam ashore taking with them as many books as they could and sold them to the passersby to make up for the wages they had lost. They certainly found the sale lucrative enough to start making a regular living from it.


Bouquinistes' stalls near Notre-Dame Cathedral

Since then, we are used to seeing the booksellers along the Seine and they have become one of the many iconic symbols of Paris.


February 29, 2012 6 comments

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)

Pastéis de Nata are one of the most famous Portuguese pastries. Once you put your feet for the first time in Lisbon, you know you will end up at Pastéis de Belém, enjoying this egg tart pastry, sprinkled, comme il faut, with cinnamon and powdered sugar.


You also know that you should be patient because many people will be there on the waiting line. However, you know it will be worth it, not only because of the quality of the pastry, but also because you are in the place where the first globalization of the world has begun, Belém.


February 8, 2012 6 comments