Where we live in rural, central France the whole period of Christmas and New Year is far less commercial than it is in the UK. The focus is much more on it being a time for families to get together, eat, drink and be sociable.
The 25th of December is a Bank Holiday but it does not stop our local baker from coming round in his van and delivering fresh bread, croissants and brioche on Christmas morning!
So, what else, as the Thais would say, is “same-same but different”?.
- By law all letters written to Santa are responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response. How cool is that?
- Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year ~ though I’ve not seen this in our village. We do have great fun getting French visitors to kiss under our indoor mistletoe.
- Rather than hanging stockings by the fire, French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts.
- Many people work Christmas Eve morning but finish work early. They spend the rest of the day with family members or close friends. People traditionally decorate their home, and prepare a celebratory meal on Christmas Eve – this meal is often eaten around midnight. As in England, Christmastime festivities supplanted earlier pagan feasts. Pagan rites, such as decorating houses and streets with evergreens continues as does the burning of Yuletide Logs. It used to be that people would pour wine over the Yule Log and set it on fire on Christmas Eve. The log was burned slowly over the next few days and its ash saved as a good luck charm to be burnt on the next year on Christmas Eve. Today people buy a bûche de Noël (a log shaped dessert made of sponge cake or ice cream ~ rather like the chocolate log cake in the UK) on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and this is a remnant of that age-old tradition.
- Twelfth Night (Epiphany or La Fete des Rois) on January 6th is a very popular festival here. Whereas in the UK it is an occasion to take down festive decorations in France it is a day for another evening family meal. In the period leading up to January 6th, the bakers shops are full of Les Galette des Rois – round cakes which is cut into pieces and distributed by a child, known as le petit roi or l’enfant soleil. Whoever finds la fève – the charm hidden inside the Gallette – is King or Queen for the rest of the day. It reminds me of the British tradition of hiding silver coins in the Christmas pudding.
- Interestingly one of the possible derivations of the word, Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) comes from the Touraine patois au gui menez or au gui l’an neuf respectively – i.e.‘to the mistletoe go’ or ‘to the mistletoe this New Year’ . Both of which are an allusion to the ancient Druidical practice of gathering mistletoe for the midwinter ceremonies as it was believed to have life-giving powers and bestowed fertility. Kissing under the mistletoe was probably an early Pagan marriage ritual. Mistletoe was also used by Druids as an oral contraceptive ~ quite handy, no doubt, when you’re holding a love-fertility fest.
- Julie Guy has also noticed that, last year, three brave
souls created a new Winter tradition of drinking Vouvray wine in the woods (see image).
Colin Dyson has blogged about differences around Christmas meal times click here. I’m sure other Tourainians can add further insights into the winter festive traditions of the area. I look forward to hearing from you all.