Christmas time in Provence is a lovely time of year. Although commercialised as in other parts of Europe, it is a more low-key affair.
The Christmas decorations are not on sale for months in advance, nor is Christmas fayre for sale too far in advance. However when December arrives the street lights go up and true French style party time has arrived. We have our own Christmas lights in Aups.
In the larger towns there are craft markets housed in little wooden huts- often with stalls selling “vin chaud” to warm up the shoppers.
These photos are taken in the Christmas market at Aix en Provence where there is always a range of high quality crafts on sale, including colourful decorations made from the heart of the lavender.
Some towns have special Christmas villages where Outdoor Skating rinks are installed in the ” Christmas villages” for the Christmas period. It gives an icy Christmas feel to what can be otherwise mild temperatures.
The nativity scene still plays a large part in the decorations at Christmas time and there are “santons” made in Provence to add to the scene. Christmas trees “sapins de Noel” are brought inside and decorated. The trees can be bought with roots so as to be replanted after Christmas, or they can be cut trees, sold with a special wooden base. Artificial trees are available too.
As with any other reason to celebrate, food plays an important role for the French. Seafood plays a large part in the French Christmas menu with oysters and lobster being a speciality. Smoked salmon is abundantly available Foie gras too is very important and there are numerous brands available- both duck foie gras and the more expensive goose foie gras. Whole turkeys are not often seen for sale but at Christmas there are turkeys in the supermarkets and butchers- they tend to be a much smaller sizem but are extremely tasty. Capons are very popular along with guinea fowl. Chocolates too, in very large presentation boxes fill the entrance aisles of the supermarkets. Champagne is the drink with many producers being represented in the shops.
The main differenc between the French Christmas and the UK Christmas is that Christmas Eve-(Le réveillon) has the most important meal rather than Christmas Day. The meal is eaten before attending midnight mass with celebrations continuing late. The midnight mass is home of the “living Creche” where the nativity is enacted. The Christmas Eve meal known in Provence as the “gros souper” used to be a very simple meal, but has evolved over the years and culminates with 13 desserts representing Jesus and the 12 apostles The ingredients for the 13 desserts are to be found in the foodstores dispalyed in special shallow baskets.
Slippers are put out for Père Noel rather than stockings Simple presents are excahnged between adults , although these may be exchanged at New Year rather than Christmas. It is not necessary to stock up on wrapping paper as the shops provide a wrapping service with a voluntary contribution going to charity.
There are no Christmas Crackers!
When Christmas Day is over work starts again until the New Year- there is no holiday equivalent of Boxing Day. New Year’s Eve is “party time” with restraurants charging a premium for a” Saint Sylvestre “menu.
French New Year’s Vocabulary
Bonne Année ! Happy New Year!
Bonne année et bonne santé ! Happy New Year!
une bonne résolution New Year’s resolution
les étrennes New Year’s gifts
le gui mistletoe
le Jour de l’An New Year’s Day
la Saint-Sylvestre New Year’s Eve
Then as the finale to the Christmas celebrations Epiphany is celebrated with a cake- the “galette du rois” in honour of the three kings. A small charm or “feve”-it used to be a bean, is baked inside the cake and whoever gets the piece of cake with the charm is named the king or queen for the day- It is another occasion to assemble family and friends before Christmas is finally over for another year.