I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. It’s purely wishful thinking as it hasn’t snowed, but we do get snow here occasionally- my opening photo is proof, even if it’s from two years ago! However, the weather has changed and the nights have been cold, several dropping to below freezing; we’ve been waking to views of frozen fields and ice glittering in the weak morning sun; these proper winter dawns have been followed by beautiful clear crisp days when you can see your breath in front of you and when noses turn red with cold, and when the indoor fire’s welcoming glow has beckoned us back indoors. It’s all beginning to feel just a little festive.
But remember this is France, much loved for its slightly slower pace of life and this often frantic time of year doesn’t alter a thing; the anticipation of the imminent holiday season is palpable in the towns and cities but everything still remains calm, unhurried and peaceful.
The more populated areas are ablaze with twinkling lights, but the smaller villages, including our own, have yet to join in the revelry. Decorations are in place on the lamp posts, but they haven’t been turned on yet. It seems that the smaller the festive budget is, the less the electricity gets used! Hopefully the lights will be twinkling out their festive message soon.
I cannot wait to decorate the house, as I wanted to make a slow and steady start, but Roddy said “No,” and to my amazement Jack and Hetty followed suit. I know if I’d have asked Izzi in England she would have adamantly said “No” as well. I hasten to add it was a light hearted, good natured exchange of opinions, but they were all in unison; “It’s too early,” they chorused. I tried to persuade them, and said that I wanted to decorate for the blog, and really needed to take some photos, but they still said “No!” again. The treachery of it! So, I’m so sorry but you will have to wait a few days longer for a really seasonal post and it will be another week before we go and choose our tree.
In the meantime whilst most of the boxes of decorations have remained resolutely in the barn, we (as in Millie, Gigi and I) have had a minor victory; the “NO” voters in the family conceded we could make a tiny little gentle start and it would be quite acceptable if I decorated the box trees outside the front doors. This week I will make a giant garland and wreath, and the job will be finished properly. Hopefully the Decoration Committee will approve, but then again, maybe I won’t bring it to their notice.
But the debate wasn’t over. As Jack said, “Why break a family tradition? We’re always late for everything!”
This is hopelessly true I’m afraid; I’ve always blamed it on the fact that getting five children out the door in a timely fashion really does take some preparation and despite the best laid plans someone always forgets a glove, a phone, can’t find their boots or shoes, or needs to brush their hair; you name it, it has been forgotten! There is no getting around the fact that seven people struggling to all leave the house at the same time leads to stern words occasionally, and if anyone who has a large family succeeds where I fail, I am in great admiration and I would love to know your secret!
Each year we’ve bought the children’s Advent calendars, with up to five of them lined up in a row on a shelf. We’ve had chocolate ones, Playmobil ones, plain windows with simple pictures inside – we’ve tried them all over the years! This time around though, I decided to get creative. Roddy went to our local brocante shop for me and picked up an old shutter for a few euros. He sanded down the rough bits and screwed in 24 hooks while I cleaned some small glass yoghurt jars I’d been saving, and he and Hetty bound a hanging loop onto each one with some natural twine. Millie painted the numbers on the front and Jack and Gigi filled each with a variety of chocolates and sweets. We also put in a few extra so that if friends are here when they open them they can join in too.
A family effort and a terribly simple thing, but I cannot tell you how much fun we all had and how much we all adore our calendar this year, a new tradition.
There is something so comforting about familiarity, watching the same old decorations beginning to go up in the neighbourhood. The main square in Rochefort, Place Colbert, has for the 16th year in succession been transformed into an open-air ice-skating rink for the holidays. Maison Illuminée signs appear beside main roads, inviting passers-by to take a detour and look at the spectacle of private houses lit up and decorated purely for the pleasure it brings to both young and old. Notices are everywhere advertising Christmas markets.
I’ve made the first batch of mince pies, a very English tradition that our French friends have always enjoyed, with the aid of my merry band of helpers
and nature is getting festive too with her own decorations; the persimmons are golden baubles against a clear blue sky, ripening fast on the tree in our garden.
Most of all though I want to keep Christmas special, magical, and stress-free; and that means keeping everything relatively simple.
Christmas and the build-up to it can be very stressful but I hope you all take the time to really take pleasure in the season and the festivities. As one of our children said to me recently “Mama, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be fun.”
She was right of course. Naturally we want everything to be at its very best, but I’ve learnt to take a tip from the French lifestyle – to slow everything down a little, and I enjoy the season and the company of family and friends far more because of it. I hope you all do, too.