This time last year Andy and I were in Provence house-hunting & if I’m honest we never really imagined that we would now be preparing to spend our first Christmas in our own home in France.
It’s been a great year and for the first time we’ve managed to spend extended holidays in and around the Luberon, really getting under the skin of the area that we love & enjoying the lifestyle that we have dreamed of for so long!
Now though we’re planning our first Christmas there & are trying to do what we can to strike the balance between enjoying the traditions of a French Christmas, whilst keeping the things that make our own family Christmas so special.
Over the last few weeks Andy has spent his French lessons (with Marina – http://www.franci-discendum.com) talking about the differences between the festive celebrations. This has, inevitably, given rise to some fascinating discussions, with Andy often having to dash off to find various things to show Marina, when the description has got a little lost in translation!
Christmas clearly starts early in Provence with the planting of wheat in pots on St Barbara’s Day 4th December – if the wheat grows well it symbolises that the year ahead will be prosperous & the pots then go on to form a key part of the table decorations for the traditional Christmas Eve meal.
December 4th is also when the traditional Santons (little Saints) are taken from their box & set out for the season. Very different to the traditional Nativity scenes we set up at home in England, the scene in Provence is set in a miniature copy of a 19th Century village.
The scenes are based around ‘Pastorale’ a Provençal tale based on the traditional Nativity, blending the Sacred with local characters – from dancers to Roustido (who arrived late due to being hard of hearing) and Pimpara ( a gossip-loving knife grinder). The pretty handcrafted clay figures are made by artisans across the region and are a key part of local Christmas traditions with some towns having markets dedicated to them. Perhaps this year we’ll have to start building our own collection!
A good place to visit if you fancied finding out more about Santons is the small museum in nearby Fontaine de Vaucluse http://www.provenceguide.co.uk/cultural-heritage/sorgues-area/museum-of-santons-and-provence/provence-PCUPAC084CDT0000358-1.html
What we have discovered is that Christmas Eve in France seems to have much more significance than in the U.K. to the point that major Rugby matches planned for the evening this year, have been moved following a threat to ‘strike’ from the professional players! As such we’ll now be travelling to Montpellier on 23rd December to watch their match against Toulon – not exactly the Christmas Eve fun we had imagined, but it will still be a fun family evening out.
It I s on Christmas Eve that tables are laid with 3 white cloths, 3 candles and the pots of wheat, planted on Saint Barbara’s Day. There is then the late Church Service, preceded by the ‘Le Gros Souper’ (described as a supper to keep people going whilst waiting to go to Church) and ‘Les Treize Desserts’ (a defined selection of 13 desserts, which are served afterwards, including dates, raisins, nuts, nougat and the local Calissons. Families come together to celebrate & only once the last dessert is eaten do they finally retire to bed in the early hours of the morning. As someone who likes to be in bed relatively early I think this would be quite a challenge – as Marina says it’s hard for the little-ones who are then tired on Christmas Day itself.
So this year we’re looking forward to experiencing these traditions & building them into our own family Christmas. We’ll be visiting our local town (Apt) to wander through the incredible Christmas lights (that would not look out of place on Oxford Street in London) thanks to the town being home to the world-renowned light manufacturer Blachère.
We’ll also try to pop over to Forcalquier to visit the ‘Crèche’ there, which Marina describes as being one of the best in the area.
We’ll wander around the Christmas markets & inevitably sit & watch the world go by over a coffee or two – just settling back into the area & immersing ourselves in a Provençal Christmas.
The pace of Christmas in Provence is a pleasure and a far cry from the hectic over-the-top commercialism we have seen at home. It’s certainly very festive but there doesn’t appear to be the extreme marketing we see in the U.K – in fact ‘Panic Saturday’ didn’t seem to exist yesterday with the markets ticking over as normal – if there was any panic it was certainly well-controlled and managed over coffee and a glass of wine!
There are though (of course) some things we have had to bring with us, things that are a critical part of our own Christmas that neither the boys nor we could leave behind. Also having chatted to Marina over the last few weeks we feel duty-bound to introduce her to them in person.
So in the back of the car came ‘Mincemeat’ the wonderful fruity, spiced and slightly alcoholic mixture to make mince-pies; there was also a Christmas cake that has been covered in marzipan & is now ready to ice. We have also had to bring crackers (perhaps one of the more difficult things to describe) – not the dry biscuits for cheese but the pull-open tubes containing hats, gifts & the inevitably awful jokes! And of course a Christmas Pudding to be brought ‘flaming’ to the table and served with brandy sauce or some homemade ice cream.
So the lights at the house are up….
The woodburner is lit…….
All we need to do now is finish decorating the tree & relax with a glass of local wine. We’ll spend the days walking or cycling and the evenings relaxing in front of the fire, whilst we settle into our first French Christmas together.
Joyeuses Fetes everyone and a very Happy 2017
Sharing this blog via January’s AllAboutFrance linkup on the Lou Messugo Blog