Slowly the Festivities Begin

HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

img_03651-2But 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Most of all though I want to keep Christmas special, magical, and stress-free; and that means keeping everything relatively simple.

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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.

164 thoughts on “Slowly the Festivities Begin

    • Thank you Jane, it is as relaxed as any Christmas can be, and I purposefully try to keep it this way, over the years I have come to realise that it is more about the family and enjoying ourselves than everything being perfect! xx

      • Oh, cherished France — brought to life so subtly and with such sensitivity. My Christmas the year I lived in Provence (1987) was also eminently simple — from watching happy families having picnics on the grass on Christmas Eve, to joining neighbors beside their tree (duck and frites for dinner, and opening gifts together as though I were family.) The miracle of that Christmas was La Messe de Minuit, in old Cannes, up on Le Suquet — humans dressed as santons, and mass and carols in three languages – including Provencal. Never in my life have I felt the Christmas spirit as on that night in that ancient church. Carolyn Foote Edelmann, Princeton NJ

      • Carolyn that sounds absolutely stunning, I can just imagine the atmosphere, how beautiful. We all go to midnight mass in our village church and aperatifs with the mayor on the 23rd for the whole village, it is a very special time of year, it is not fancy here, but very honest and down to earth and about bringing people together, just as it should be. Have a lovely week xx

  • So simple yet absolutely charming, just love your advent calendar with jars hanging on the shutters. You will have to sneak in a simple decoration each day, then the family might not realise you have started decorating. I’m missing decorating my home this year, but we leave here this week, however I’ll have the pleasure of decorating my daughters home.

    • Thanks Barbara, I will go slowly slowly and as you say they wont notice, one hopes!!! Enjoy decorating with your daughter, I am sure that will be lots of fun, cannot believe you are all packed and ready to leave, how time flies, hope it has all gone smoothly! xx

    • Thank you so much, this is just how I like December and the build up to Christmas to be, festive but not over the top, just a steady slow build up. Hope you have had a lovely weekend xx

  • Beautiful blog , lovely sentiments, great photos…. I just wish I could enjoy Christmas.. it is too stressful and when I see people happy and cosy it sort of hurts as there are so many under currants running through my family….. sorry it all just came out. xxxx

    • I am so so sorry. Buy some headphones, play endless Christmas music that no one else can hear and block out the rest, I think that is what I would do and live in my own bubble. I really hope you find a way for a little happiness this Christmas, sending you BIG hugs from France xxx

    • Thanks so very much, if you saw the mess children create whilst baking you would know why the open bottle of wine was there and was necessary!!! Joking aside, it was nothing more than flour on the floor and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter one bit, the best part is the children actually want to bake and make things and be part of it all and I wouldn’t change that for all the mess they can throw at me! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, sounds like a very peaceful restful start to the day. xx

  • Great pics, as always. We are already decorated for Christmas. Happened the day after Thanksgiving this year which is a little unusual, but it just happened. So nice that your family is involved with the decorating and baking. Merry Christmas to you all.

    • Thanks so much Audrey, I do know that Americans do decorate a great deal earlier than we do in Europe and I think having seen so many photos and read so many blogs where everyone is getting festive and everywhere looks so pretty I was itching to get started, still I am having to be patient! Merry Christmas to you too xx

  • Simply beautiful! I love the way you are raising your children and making such special memories. I hope you show your decorated home after the nos become yeses!

    • Hi Lynn, Thanks so much, I will do a blog about all the finished decorations, it will probably be the last blog out there to finally get in on the act, but better late than never!! I love that the children just want to be involved in everything, it really does make it very special for us. Hope you have had a great weekend. xx

  • Our tree goes up before Thanksgiving, because we celebrate American Thanksgiving early (everyone has other places to be on the actual date) and our grandchildren love to decorate the tree. True, it tends to get heavily decorated on the lower branches, but I’m okay with that. A few more simple decorations go up after Thanksgiving day (roughly the beginning of Christmas season here).

    I love your Advent calendar made by so many loving hands. Our grandchildren get gifts but not the adults. I make a family basket tailored to the preferences of each. Homemade pumpkin bread is always included. For ourselves, we ask they make donations in our name to charity. Seeing what they’ve each picked for us is the best part of Christmas.

    The gift I’m excited about giving this year is a garage sale find, a sturdy children’s dollhouse. I fixed the roof and painted the insides and am hanging curtains next. Our granddaughter loves arranging things and organizing them so I’m including lots of little furniture and paintings she can “decorate with”. Hopefully this will be a great “quiet time” toy so her Mama gets some time to read a book…

    We’ll get together again as a family right around Christmas at our son/stepson’s house. We’ll have a potluck with choices for vegans and carnivores; maybe tacos? That’s what we did last year and loved it.

    Like your daughter says, it’s not perfect but it is fun!

    • It sounds like the most wonderful time Patricia, I absolutely love that you give your gifts to charity each year, how wonderful. We always make shoe boxes, each one of our children makes one and buys small presents and writes a handwritten card which they then donate, it is so important for them to learn that giving is every bit as enjoyable as receiving, and they really have learnt that, they love giving gifts. The dollhouse sounds absolutely gorgeous, what a lucky granddaughter she will be, I can imagine she will love every second of it, and it has been thought of with such care and attention to detail. We have vegetarians and meat lovers in the family too, so it is all about having lots of different choices! It is never perfect here, far from it, but I hope it is always fun and always lots of love and happiness, that’s what counts! xx

  • You are not the only one who has not yet decorated for Christmas. It will be a week (or two) before I get around to it and it will be very low key. Slow and quiet works for me. Now the children are grown with families of their own, we end up celebrating Christmas Day at one of their houses late morning/early afternoon before they head to their spouse’s family home later in the day. So the days of decorating for the children are past.

    • Hi Mary, even with the children I love decorating slowly, a simple Christmas seems really special somehow. I think your Christmas sounds quite lovely, a calm home with low key decorations and the fun of going over to spend time with our children. I am sure it will be a lovely special day. xx

  • I love the advent calendar the family created! What a great idea this year! This was an exceptionally peaceful blog to read on a slow Sunday morning. I can almost smell your mince pies cooling on the table. I think I may get out my holiday decorations today — thank you for the inspiration! xoxoxo, Nancy

    • Thanks Nancy, I am glad I managed to convey exactly what I hoped to, peace and calm and serenity, for that is exactly what it is like here, a very gentle start to the festive season, it really is very lovely and somehow manages to make it even more special. Hope you have had a lovely weekend, and hope you did start a little decorating in your beautiful home xxxxx

    • Thanks so much Monika, I really am thankful, having been in the States for Christmas I know how commercial and stressful it can be. The shops are of course full of Christmas decorations here, but they have to be, one cannot begrudge them for trying to capitalise on the busiest time of the year, the rest remains calm and peaceful, I love it. The steady build up which centres around the family. The advent calendar is such fun, we love it every day! xx

  • Thank you so much for you view of holiday celebrations from France. It’s been a welcome respite from the devastating reality of what we’re dealing with here in the states!
    One question-slightly eyebrow raising perhaps-does yogurt really come in those little glass jars in France?
    Merriest of Christmases to you and yours!

    • Thank you Kate, it really is a very simple gentle start to the season here, another reason I love living in France! Now the yoghurts! Yes they really do come in glass jars, but not all of them. There are plenty of brands which come in plastic pots but every now and then I purposefully choose to buy the ones in glass jars, when I need the jars for something, like this project or when we have friends staying with us, they look so much nicer on the table for breakfast than their plastic relations! What’s more the price is no different, I only normally choose the plastic potted ones because I like to buy organic yoghurt. A very very merry Christmas to you too xx

  • For someone who has been told not to decorate yet, you have made a pretty good start with little lights out the fron, mice tarts and an advent calendar/wall art installation. I am hanging off this year as long as I can, and may get away with nothing at all. Last year I had the Christmas lunch at my place- it rotates around my other three siblings and we have had Christmas with my mother since I was born. Last year the numbers came to 28- that’s 28 seats, enough tables, ironed cloths, cutlery, glasses of all kinds, plates for three courses or more and so on.It was stressful. I have decided that for the very first time in my life, ( at 66) this is not going to happen this year. I’,m on trike from Christmas. There will still be gifts for the little ones.
    Your village looks so beautiful Susan and your daughter making the tarts – just wonderful.

    • Wow Francesca, that is a lot of people for Christmas lunch! But also, how fantastic that you have had lunch with your Mother for 66 years, that is just so fantastic and wonderful for her too, how lucky she is. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas together, do you take along some Italian traditional foods? Enjoy every second of it, even though with the large numbers it might be very stressful, it also sounds so fabulous to all be together. As for the decorating, I don’t go overboard, I love the lights outside the front door and the advent calendar had to be ready for the 1st December, whether we decorated or not. And the mince pies – I secretly love introducing new French friends to them, they have invariably never tasted them before and they always love them and enjoy sampling a little taste of English traditional food! Hope you had a lovely weekend xx

  • I will always picture a “skinny magpie” as I bite into a mince pie after the comments of our French tutor last week! I am waiting to see the reaction of our neighbours when I offer them a “skinny magpie” nearer Xmas. I still have to make the mincemeat but my Xmas cake is in the oven, perfuming the house.
    Your family has my support with regard to the decorations, particularly as they should remain in place until the Twelfth Night

    • So now I am totally intrigued, what were your French tutor’s comments that caused you to think of mince pies as “skinny magpies”?? I would love to hear how your neighbours like them, I have yet to meet a French person who doesn’t like mince pies! They always go down really well here. We will probably buy our Christmas tree next weekend, otherwise the best tend to be already sold, but we won’t bring it into the house until the 14th or 15th at the earliest, as you say it just doesn’t last until Twelfth night otherwise and I am an absolute stickler about keeping everything in place and taking every down on that day. Hope you have had a lovely weekend, where are you in France? xx

      • mince – thin, slender & une pie – a magpie ! I saw lovely Christmas trees in Chalais market this morning as well as at the Brico and Intermarché but ours will have to wait until my husband is there to do the carrying back to the car.

      • Ha ha, now I understand, thank you! There are trees everywhere on sale here too, I think we might go and get one at the weekend before they all sell out, and like you, with my husband, to help heave it onto the roof to bring it home! Incredibly mild here today, 16C with clear blue skies, such strange weather! Hope you are enjoying the quiet build up to Christmas xx

      • mince – thin, slender & une pie – a magpie. There were several stalls at the Chalais market on Monday as well as the Brico and Intermarche, selling Christmas trees on Monday. I will have to wait until my husband is with me to carry it to the car, before I get one.
        We are in the Dordogne, across the border from the Charante and actually just within the cognac appellation.

      • A beautiful part of France, hope the sun is shining for you this morning, it has been so mild here this week, a complete contrast to last week, but still endless sunshine so we cannot complain! Trees are appearing everywhere here too and the Christmas market stalls in the main towns all come to life this weekend, ice skating is open and everywhere is really starting to feel quite festive. However, I still haven’t heard a Christmas song on the radio yet!! But for the first time they were chatting about Noel this morning, so it’s a start! Have a great week xx

  • Our village had its Christmas market yesterday. No flashy over the top decos but a nice small gathering of local producers with good quality reasonably prices stuff. Plus Christmas trees for those who had ordered through a local charity for the disabled. We ate our first mince pies of the season yesterday. I won’t be decorating though. I always feel it’s a bit hypocritical since we are not Christian and won’t do any of the religious bits, or even exchange gifts. Festive winter solstice food is fine though 🙂 That’s just marking the passage of time and the seasons. I’m off to pick up our foie gras on Wednesday and we’ll prep it with friends on Friday.

    • I love the Christmas markets, they are springing up in villages all around here, although ours is too small to have one which is a shame, we just have our usual oyster sellers on Sunday mornings outside the boulangerie! Hope you enjoy the foie gras xx

  • Last night, we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Today, we’ll sing-along with Christmas carols playing softly in the background, and write Christmas cards to family and dear friends. I love seeing your “golden baubles against a clear blue sky”. I will begin baking persimmon cookies next weekend then decorating the house, too. That’s our slow-down, it doesn’t all-have-to-be-completed-in-one-day routine.

    • Sounds absolutely perfect and absolutely couldn’t agree more, it doesn’t have to be all done at once, we get ready slowly, I wrap presents, a few at a time whilst the children are at school, I have already sent my foreign ones to family members. I love playing carols and just feeling Christmassy. The only thing I miss here in France is a traditional carol service with all those carols that I love so much and know so well. I have never made Persimmon cookies, I am off to try and find a recipe. Hope you have had a lovely weekend. xx

  • Oh the advent calendar ……… J’adore!!!!
    How incredibly lovely and fun! What happiness it will bring.
    Thank you for sharing this……….
    I’ve not decorated yet either, as our Christmas things are arriving in a container on Wednesday. I’m afraid our will happen rather abruptly as the bins will be sitting tin the middle of the room!
    Hahaha, but will have to keep it calm and follow your lead.
    Thank you once again for sharing this wonderful pace of life with us!

    • Thanks so much, j’adore the advent calendar also! We will probably start decorating together, so don’t worry you have plenty of time. We won’t even go and buy our tree until next week, there’s plenty of time! But most of all, just take it slowly and do what you can, and enjoy it! xxx

  • Would love to be there. None of our friends start decorating until later this week. It will be greens cut from the trees. Some rose hips and winterberries. All very natural and low key. Our island does not do a lot of glitz. We will have an eight or nine foot tree as we have a twelve foot ceiling. Lots of fun around the table with a bit of wine….

    Ali xx

    • Sounds absolutely perfect! We won’t even go and buy the tree until next weekend and then maybe will bring it into the house around the 14th to start decorating, otherwise it simply doesn’t last anyway until Twelfth night. Natural and low key is the best in my opinion, I love using magnolia greens from our trees, the leaves last so well and are quite dramatic. You will have to send me a photo of your tree, I am already envious of the 9′ tree! Hope you are over the jet lag!! xxx

  • Love that you share your life and home with us. I enjoy so much reading your post and look forward to it. Love, love your kitchen, would love to see more of it. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you so much Donna, I never realised how much I would enjoy sharing our French lifestyle with everyone, but I do and I get such pleasure from reading the comments and replying and having conversations with everyone. I will show more of the kitchen in the future I promise! Hope you have had a lovely weekend xx

    • Thanks so much Penny, we won’t go and buy our tree until next weekend and will then probably bring it indoors and start decorating it around the 14th or 15th. I love a slow steady build up to Christmas day, it keeps it all exciting. Hope you have had a lovely weekend xx

  • I love your advent calendar – so original and am sure it will be loved for many years to come now, as you say you have started a new tradition

    • Thanks Amanda, I do feel as if we have started a new tradition and one we shall look forward to every year, I cannot tell you the pleasure we have had from it already and it is only the 4th day! Hope you have had a lovely weekend. xx

  • Beautiful photos, love the feeling of absolute calm they give. We finished decorating last week but there is still so much to do, I am going to do just as you say and try and relax a little and enjoy the holidays- wise words indeed

    • Thank you so much Sharon, I am so happy that you found the photos so calming, I really did think they were so serene and I was excited to share them. As you have finished decorating then you have finished the hardest task, now you really can sit back and enjoy every day, I hope you have a wonderful lead up to Christmas xx

  • Beautiful Advent idea Susan. We’ve just been back to the UK to see our eldest and everything is in full Christmas madness. The decorations won’t go up for us until a week before as we have always done. There’s not a hint of it where we live except the crusty cold mornings!

    • Thanks Amanda, our eldest tells me everything is a little crazy in the UK, makes me glad to be here! We always used to decorate our house and tree on the first weekend of the school holidays but in recent years that has always been on the 21st or so and everyone thought it was a touch too late so we brought it forward a little! Of course this year it is on the 16th, so most likely we will buy our tree next weekend and then bring it into the house and decorate it on the Friday night once school is finished. The towns here are all decorated and beautifully lit every night, they have been since the 1st, but still the villages remain resolutely light free! Although as I said the decorations are in place and several houses are now awash with lights and all sorts of festive fun. All French as there are no other foreigners in the village! Thoroughly enjoying this wonderful crispy cold weather. If you head this way towards the coast over the holidays do let me know. xx

      • I don’t think I could handle UK Christmas shopping at all, all of those people would drive me mad! Saintes was crowded enough last week!! Still the Christmas lights have not been turned on here, we keep waiting! Really warm here today, 16C, all signs of the cold weather have gone! Have a great week xx

  • I love the frost frozen in the air on the 2nd photo, your homemade Advent Calendar (wow – glass yogurt containers!), and of course the persimmon tree. Mmmmm.

    My Christmas will definitely be a slow one this year. Normally I would have gifts purchased and decorations in process by now, but none of that has happened. With a re-broken collarbone and an arm in a sling, it’s hard to do much of anything. Son #2 will be home in 10 days and has promised to put up the tree and decorate it. This will certainly be the year of aiming for *fun* rather than *perfection* 🙂

    I love the glimpse you have given us into a French Christmas. More please ❤

    • Hi Joanne, thanks so much, I love the glass yoghurt pots, I always buy them if we have friends staying, they look so much nicer on the table, the only reason I don’t buy them all the time is I like organic yoghurts and they don’t come in glass containers! I think aiming for fun with a broken collar bone sounds like the very best idea, so happy you have someone to come and do the decorating for you. When will your arm be out of it’s sling, sounds really painful, make the most of being able to watch all those Christmas movies, you have the perfect excuse! I promise more will come about Christmas, how could it not, but it is slow and quiet here. Hope you have had a lovely weekend and I really hope the collar bone mends well and quickly xx

  • After more than 15 yrs living in the tropics I yearn for snow and can’t neither expect it in southern Spain. But at the
    latest in Dec. I feel sentimental and I recall to my childhood where, after coming home ,chilled to the bones from ice
    skating, we painted xmas bulb in the brightest colours….
    my parents, my sister and me in our little kitchen, singing christmas songs and nibbled already the first home-
    backed cookies. This cozy feeling I never lost once experienced in my childhood. The time before Xmas still
    makes me happy and incredibly self-balanced….for me ” it’s the most wonderful time of the year” (singing this
    while writing)
    ..Thank you for your kind invitation. Whenever I will be close to your home I will let you know.

    • The most wonderful time of the year indeed, how I agree with you, I can hear the music in my head as I write it. I love how you have described your childhood Christmas and as you say those memories stay with you forever. Our Christmas was always the same, we never decorated our tree until the 21st, we always had friends for drinks on Christmas Eve, I can remember every little detail and the build up, our Grandparents arriving to stay, Christmas cards in the mail, Carol services, it was purely magical, yet I never remember it being stressful. I hope to give my own children the same sort of memories, this cold weather is certainly helping! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, if you are in Southern Spain you will certainly be a fair bit warmer than we are here! xx

      • Between 15 and 20 degrees and heavy rain…but for me perfect. To retain that old Xmas custom for our children (as other childhood experiences ) is very important so as to be ready for their happy future….just listening to
        “Jingle bell rock” irradeated by candle light (I love the american xmas songs ..they are not so “dramatic” as ours)

      • 16C here today and blue skies, no rain for well over a week, it was so cold and now suddenly so mild again, which sadly seems a lot less festive than the frost! Jingle Bell Rock is the absolute favourite of the children here, we’ve heard it several times already this week and it’s only Monday! Have a lovely week xx

    • Thanks so much Sylvia, it will be simple and the same as always! We will probably go and get the tree next weekend and then bring it into the house the following week and decorate it. A slow build up but it makes it all the more special. Hope you have had a lovely weekend xx

  • Susan, I’m so excited, not only for Christmas (and your post), but because we’re getting snow today!! It began while we were at church and is still at it. We have at least 2 gorgeous inches right now. Shall I send you some? 🙂 I don’t have all my decorations up yet and no tree, either. The girls and my husband used to decorate the tree because I did everything else, but as they’re grown-up and gone and won’t be home until the week of Christmas, we’ll see what happens this year. I may put the light on the tree and then they can decorate when they get here. Love your Advent calendar idea! We still have dough ornaments the girls and some friends made many, many years ago and they bring back many good memories. Regarding electricity, the costs are rather high in France, aren’t they? I know my s-i-l always does laundry either at night or very early in the morning and is very careful about using too much light. Finally, could I have your kitchen? 🙂

    Cheers!

    janet

    • Now you have made me totally envious, snow! I have seen photos of snow from friends in Chicago today too, absolutely none forecast here, indeed it is meant to be getting warmer! Yes please send me some, how magical. We will probably go and get our tree next weekend and then decorate the week after, the children always do at least half of it. I think I would do just as you suggest and put the lights up and then let them decorate it, especially as they have ornaments they have made, we have some of those too, and baubles they have painted with their finger prints at school, nothing special at all, but they mean so so much to me. Electricity is expensive in France, I always do our laundry at night, because the electricity is half price, we put our dishwasher on at night too and if I need to use the dryer (not often) then I use that at night also!!! If you send me some snow I’ll send you my kitchen! xx

  • Oh how I loved this post, the feeling of calm you certainly painted the perfect picture, such a contrast to the madness of the USA. I fear here everyone has quite forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, it is all about impressing the neighbors, or at least it is where I live. I would love to be in France and in your beautiful house xoxo

    • Hi Peggy, thank you. I do worry that people have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas as it becomes more and more commercial and so we are lucky that here it really is much slower and much calmer. I don’t think anyone in our village would care less abut impressing their neighbours, they would laugh at the idea. Some houses have a simple tree in the window and others have masses of outdoor lights, each to his own. Hope you have had a lovely calm and peaceful weekend xx

  • Maybe because we don’t have children, maybe because my family is back in France, maybe because for many years we have spent Christmas afloat and in remote spots, we don’t do a great deal of celebration around Christmas time. Sad I know and s bit lonely… Christmas to me is a reminder of how far away I live from those I love. But I did like your post Susan and the mix of French and English traditions.

    • It’s true we certainly do far more for Christmas because of the children, without them I wonder what we would do, Roddy would certainly follow your lead and spend it afloat near a remote Island! We have spent many Christmas’s away from family in far flung places and it always makes us feel a little sad too, to be on the other side of the world with just a telephone call to exchange greetings. So I hope you enjoy your Christmas together, with the waves and the wind and the birds, I could think of a great many worse scenarios! xx

  • Love your Advent shutter! Beautiful and clever, too. I am enjoying your gradual entry into Christmas.
    Here in the US, as you said, it is too rushed, too much, too this and too that. It starts now before Hallowe’en, and at this point I just want it all to go away — it has nothing to do with the real reasons behind the celebration, whether religious or seasonal.
    So I will take a deep breath and relax, slow down, enjoy, while you do all the decorating work. (And I really like those pictures of the rime on the landscape.)

    • Sounds like a good plan to me! You sit back and enjoy and have a glass of wine and I will slowly get our house ready! Most of the time here one would have no idea it is even close to Christmas, there are just little hints here and there, I am quite happy for it to stay like this, I cannot even comprehend Christmas starting in October, crazy! The advent calendar is proving to be so much fun and it’s only day four, I am so pleased we did it. Hope you had a lovely weekend xx

  • Oh, Susan,
    Thank you for this lovely, gentle post to mark the very start of your Christmas season. Your mince pies look wonderful! And the advent calendar is a fabulous idea. How brilliant to put it together as a family project and partake of the treats in it together.
    Since our children are all grown, my husband and I have spent the weekend together decorating the inside and outside of the house and purchasing our tree and getting the lights on. All weekend long, we have chuckled about all of the work this involves but we and the “children” love the familiar decorations so much that it is still worth it and the three kids plus a daughter-in-law and a new fiancee (!) will all be with us to celebrate–as well as our daughter-in-law’s mother. I know that you will love this next stage for your family. To see our two boys who are now 30 and 27 partnering with their remarkable young women is the BEST present for the whole family. My husband has always told our kids that the most important decision they will make is in the choice of a spouse and our boys have done fabulous jobs of this!!!! And, we love our daughter-in-law’s mother so much, too, that we are thrilled to have her for the second Christmas in a row. Just giving you a glimpse into future Christmases for you and your family. Anne xo

    • Thank you so much Anne, it sounds like such a perfectly wonderful Christmas. It is the next stage of parenthood, each stage is different. I loved the baby stage, because I adore babies, now I am loving the 10’s and 12’s and teenagers, they are so interesting to talk to and I know I will thoroughly enjoy the stage you are at too. How wonderful that you and your husband spent a weekend decorating and that everyone is coming home making it all so worthwhile. You are lucky to have a lovely sounding daughter in law and her mother, but her mother is also so lucky to have you. I love hearing stories like this, people getting along, friendship and family, enjoy every second of it. xx

  • That advent calender is ingenious! I always think it’s better to have a shorter but more filled festive period than build it up for weeks on end, so I am in the no camp here!

    • Ha ha, thanks Helen, as a child, we never decorated until the week before Christmas, once school was over. I used to do the same with our children, but the term seemed to end closer and closer to Christmas, many times on the 20th or 21st and it got so late and so we brought it forward a little. This year they finish school on the 16th so maybe we shall wait for the tree until the first night of the holidays, it seems to have more meaning that way! xx

  • I feel all Christmassy inside reading this Susan! You’ve crafted such a beautiful festive vision. We made our first batch of mince pies this weekend as well, a mix of traditional ones and these little serial ones we make every year.

    • Thanks Lily, I absolutely adore mince pies, we have to make several batches as they never seem to last very long! Izzi makes wonderful spiral pinwheel type mince pies, when she comes home for the holidays I am sure she will make them again! xx

  • Great idea for the Advent calendar, Susan, we love it! Definitely something we’ll have to think about for next year. I can see lots of small presents being left in those jars!

    • Thanks Simon, I think small presents would be a wonderful idea, unwrapping anything always makes it more special. This year, I didn’t even think of this until last week and by the time we had put it together I certainly didn’t have time to think of presents, I am afraid a good tin of Quality Street and Celebrations had to suffice! xx

  • My granny always said that you must eat one mince pie ((at least )) for each of the 12 days of Christmas to bring good luck for the 12 months of the year to come. She was a great one for inventing superstitions to suit those she cared for – that one was for me …. I can hoover up hundreds of the little darlings in a season xx

    • What a great superstition, I can think of all sorts of things that this would suit for the 12 days of Christmas! I adore them, only half the children like them which is fine, all the more for the rest of us!!! Hope England is probing to be suitably English, festive and fun! Xx

      • Feel free to steal …. I think you should apply it to whatever you feel needs to be partaken of every day for the 12 days and stick to it! England is lovely ….. off to London to stay with eldest daughter today so nothing could be finer xx

      • Now it could be used as blackmail as well, “you have to do eat this every day or else!!!” But they all love their veg so can’t really see much point in this one, but it still sounds lovely. Hope you have a lovely time in London, still my favourite city in the world, probably just because I know it so well! Xx

      • Oh come on Susan – they can’t love everything on earth … there must be some evil mother leverage in there somewhere. London was my home for many many years and I do love it still but like an ex-husband I know a re-marriage would be catastrophic x

      • Now I am thinking, cabbage, but I hate it too and they would make me eat it in return and school put me off it for good, just the smell makes me turn green! Aha, spinach, I love spinach and they are not so keen! Evil parents that we are!! Wise words about London xx

    • We are just starting to eat the persimmons now, utterly delicious and so lovely as all the other fruit from the garden has long since finished, so these are always a real treat at this time of year. The Advent Calendar is proving to be a great success, it is such fun and everyone loves it. Xx

  • I save those yogurt little glasses as well. They are not easy to find, but I love that brand. Now, if they has tops that can be reused…
    Chilly here and frost across our park. Brrr.

    • Can you imagine the uses if they had tops as well instead of the foil ones that one has to throw away. The yoghurts are sold in both of our local supermarkets in packs of 2, 4 or 12, there is something so much nicer about eating a yoghurt out of a glass jar as opposed to plastic! Stay warm! It has turned milder here this morning but still clear skies and sunny so not complaining! Xx

  • Personally I think France have got it right. Xmas in the UK has got so commercialized and American, (Don’t mean to offend, Americans…just saying) I really wish we could stay faithful to our traditions. Cards are in the shops as early as August, and stores are full of dreadful tat, it seems quite vulgar to me. I don’t want to hear xmas songs on the radio for the entire month of December, it dilutes the Christmas feeling and by the time we get there I am just bored with it all. Funnily enough I have mentioned this on my own blog today. Am aware I sound like a real ‘Bah humbug’ but I would just like to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and not have to be subjected to this consumer fest every year. Rant over.
    I love your volet advent calendar, it is truly personal to your family and is a fantastic example of recycling. Also pleased to see your French friends like mince pies, I always make my own, the pastry in shop bought ones is always too thick. Can you buy QS in France ???
    xx

    • I do agree with you, here one really wouldn’t know it is Christmas at all most of the time, I haven’t heard a single Christmas song on the radio yet! The Advent Calendar really is proving to be a huge success, the children are loving it every day. But please tell me what is QS? I have tried to work this out all day and have drawn a blank, but yes I far prefer home made ones with a good homemade shortcrust pastry. Delicious! Xx

      • Ha ha, I searched google for terms relating to pastry, mincemeat anything that could be QS, I learnt a lot, all about Quantum satis, a sufficient quantity, took me back to my Latin days at school, but never did I think of Quality Street!! Yes, we can buy them in our local Super U. Carrefour has QS and also Celebrations which for some reason are double the price! xx

  • Oh I wish things would slow down here in the US! ….Or, that I could decamp for France. What a dream 🙂 You’re photos are delightful. I’m looking forward to the Christmas season arrive on your blog at the properly slow French pace.

    • Thank you so much, I must admit I love the slow build up to Christmas here, somehow I think it actually makes it far more special. I will keep adding little bits of festive cheer on the blog as we get nearer and nearer to the big day. Have a lovely week xx

  • Oh your persimmon tree is such a royal decoration! I am sure if you starting sliding little driblets of festivities the committee wouldn’t object. I personally like to get it all up earlier so you can enjoy it longer. I love your advent calendar, so much prettier than those cardboard boxes {though they are very fun}, I used to LOVE the playmobile advents. I think I still have some of the sets in my decorations somewhere {future antiques for my grandchildren?}

    • The persimmon tree really is gorgeous, I love that it has lost all of its leaves and all that remains are the heavy orange fruit. I think the committee won’t mind me adding a few tiny things here and there, as you say if I don’t point it out they probably won’t say anything!!! I love the Playmobil calendars too, they are certainly our favourite shop bought ones, as each day they get a new item which slowly builds the entire scene, very clever and great fun and I hadn’t thought of that, those little plastic toys might actually one day be antiques! Hope you have a lovely week ahead xx

  • Slow, yes please and cold,please send some out to Sydney,Australia.It is way too commercial and fast and hysterical here. I have the tree up but nothing else, too hot (37deg C)!

    • Hi Virginia, I sympathise with you having experienced many “hot” Christmas’s in the Caribbean, I never could quite get used to it! It has warmed up here but only to 16C, still very mild for winter. Play some good music, have a glass of wine and ignore the crazy hype around you, that’s what I would do!!! Have a lovely week xx

  • Love the idea of using the glass yogurt jars for Advent calendar. I have been hoarding my collection that I am slowing building from the occasional purchase of French Style yogurt sold at the high end market that come from a local dairy in the Dallas, Texas area. I love the yogurt, but alas, it is rather pricy in the small glass jars. If you ever have other ideas of how to use these jars, I would love to see them! I am so sure I will find that perfect something to do with them some day! Cheers!

    • Hi Sara, so sad that you are not much closer, the yoghurts in glass jars here are literally only a few cents more expensive than the ones in plastic pots! I have a great idea for them that I am working on and if it comes together might share in the spring, in the meantime they do make lovely tea light holders especially when bound with a little twine! Hope you have a lovely week and enjoy the build up to Christmas xx

  • Your advent calendar is lovely and the photo looks magical! I’m trying to keep things calm this year, but extra things keep getting thrown into the mix. My son graduates college next week and suddenly people are asking when the party is. Plus my dad turns 80 the following week so we’re all flying down to Florida for that party. I’m not sure I’ll get everything finished, but I guess I’ll shoot for fun instead of perfect. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

  • Well, today our lovely bright crisp frosty days are over and it is foggy and wet. I loved those blue days and dashed up to our beautiful church to take photos of the gravestones and trees with the hoar frost twinkling its white magic on grass and twigs. I did manage not to notice my elongated shadow in some of the photos though, I was so busy concentrating on the distance!!! On Saturday, we went to get our tree, only the 3rd year we’ve had a real one, but I so love it as it looks so pretty in this old cottage. I have a friend coming on Saturday and am out of the house all day Thursday and Friday so we had to get it early!! That’s my excuse anyway. Today I shall decorate it so that when my husband comes home this evening, he will walk in to a warm and cosy Christmas cottage. I can’t wait to have my grandsons to stay later in the month. I’m taking them to see Santa’s reindeer at a local garden centre. Because of how things work, we may for the first time be on our own this Christmas Day. It will be hard as I’ve been used to having large family Christmases when they all lived at home. But we have to learn to share our children once they have partners and another family to consider. However, Clive and I have decided that actually we will enjoy it. We may go to church, for a walk, a quiet Christmas lunch with all the trimmings and a glass of good wine. Then we can rest, watch the Queen, go for a walk and just enjoy each others company for the first time, instead of bustling around all day feeding everyone else!! But you know, as a mum, how I really feel…….!

    • The weather has turned really mild here too, gone are the frosts and the chill, but the blue skies have remained and the sun is really warm, 16C in the shade the past couple of days, so we are not complaining! I love the scent of real trees, hope you enjoy every bit of it. I can imagine Christmas without the children and their families will take a bit of getting used to, but it sounds as if you have made fabulous plans, I think I would do exactly the same and I am sure you will have a great celebration with the family on Boxing Day or Christmas Eve. Make sure you put some decorations on the coop!! Keep smiling and enjoy your cottage, and the build up to Christmas. I think we shall go and get our tree tomorrow before they run out, it can live outside for another week or so then! xx

  • What a lovely Advent calendar!

    I do a decidedly grown up one for Paul, a beer lover – one beer a night. I try to pick out things he has never tried before. Sometimes it works out quite well and he discovers something he loves…other times, definitely not so much!

  • It’s still too early to decorate huh? Funny in our corner of the world some put up Christmas tree as early as September 1! We put up ours 2nd week of November. It has been said the Philippines has the longest celebration of Christmas. Oh well, our differences make the world a wonderful place 😀

    • So so true, if we were all the same wouldn’t it be boring! We all have our customs and that is what is so interesting about different lifestyles and cultures. We never decorated at home when I was a child until a few days before Christmas, slowly I have made it earlier and earlier as I have got older!! I hope you have a wonderful festive Christmas, it sounds as if it is really celebrated in style in the Philippines, enjoy every second and if you ever get a chance I would love to see some photos. Xx

  • I wish we didn’t decorate everything so early here in the U.S. My birthday is on the 15th and I remember growing up that if my mother decorated on the 15th I thought it was too early I completely agree about the familiarity of Christmas traditions. My tree is the same every year. I no longer add ornaments because I have so many, and I have a collection of Santa’s that make their appearance every year as well. I don’t do a “decorator” tree here. This year I am tempted to leave it bare with just white lights but I know everyone would miss spotting their “favorite” ornament! Your front patio looks lovely and I love the advent calendars!!

    • We always used to start when school finished, that was the rule, so about a week before Christmas. Lately school seems to end closer and closer to the 25th and so the date for decorating came forward a little, however this year they finish school on the 16th, so I have a feeling that may be the magic day!!! We don’t go for t he designer tree either, it is a tree, like yours, that is decorated with the same ornaments that mean so much, small things the children have made at school, it’s all about memories and traditions. Have a lovely end to the week and an early Happy Birthday! X

  • What a lovely story, I too love the slowness that is rural france although I slow too much and all of a sudden it is two weeks away and I am in a turmoil. just writing cards and getting them postedm next must be to get out and do some pressie shopping, thanks for the reminder..

    • I still have plenty of shopping to do, but I am just working out quite when I shall go and do it! I refuse to get at all stressed about any of it, what will be will be! At least we have now bought our tree and at least once we do all go shopping here it is still calm and not chaos! Plus the Christmas villages open here this weekend, lots and lots of little wooden huts selling artisanal things, perhaps this is where I shall shop! Xx

  • Ah Susan this touched my heart…..makes me wish I was there! Everything you described, and your photographs, is as it should be – with lots of heart. I think we stress because we want to achieve so much. Time suddenly seems more scarce than ever. And I wholeheartedly agree with your Decorations Committee to not start too soon! It makes me so sad when all our retail stores start blaring out Christmas special offers and putting out decorations in the 3rd week of October already, it’s like an onslaught of “hard sell”…….not a soft, gentle, mysterious, twinkly, tinkly dainty little bell or light in sight…no magic at all. I prefer your way of slowly starting the festivities for sure ❤

    • You are absolutely right, that is exactly why we stress, because we try to do it all and make everything perfect which is only natural. I am learning to just let things happen as they happen and not get too worried if something doesn’t get done, no one else will know! We have bought the tree, it will come indoors next week and most likely be decorated on the 16th, the day school finishes for the holidays. The lights got turned on in the village last night and it looks so pretty. This weekend there are Christmas markets all over the place, and the chalets surrounding the ice skating rink will open, it truly is all coming together just two weeks before Christmas, to my mind this makes the timing perfect, everyone is excited. Tomorrow morning we are going ice skating, might be a little bizarre in 15C warmth and it might be a bit slushy, but it will be fun and that’s what counts! I hope you have a lovely weekend xx

      • Oh yes that IS perfect timing! I am rather envious, your climate is far more suited to Christmas than mine, and the photo you showed of the ice skating looks like heaven! Enjoy enjoy, even if there is slush. Thank you, I wish you a lovely weekend too ❤

      • Thanks so much, but actually this morning there was no slush and hardly any people! So we have worked it out, we have to go for the morning session, 10am, it’s not crowded and of course after a chilly night it is much colder and the ice doesn’t turn to slush, today it was only 10C at 11am, but by mid afternoon it was 14C and after a day of full sun I can only imagine what it was like this afternoon. So guess what we are all going back tomorrow morning too, it was so much fun!! Wishing you a very lovely weekend too xx

  • One of the great appeals of French Country living is their joie de vivre. Thanks for sharing your family stories and beautiful photos of the French areas near you. I loved the first two photos..church and fog.

    Judith

    • Thanks so much Judith, and you are so right, the French absolutely work to live, life is for enjoying and it is also very family orientated always. A great place to live and raise a family. xx

  • I Love Love Love the Advent Calendar rendition on the shutter…In fact, would you mind if I copy it next year? A new Tradition is always fun and exciting. Great Idea!
    Susan, your pictures are Fabulous…! Your Blog is absolutely a “delight” to read particularly during this “hustle and “bustle” time of year. Thank You.
    Big snowstorm in Minnesota today…! I Would love to send some snow your way for a “White Christmas!”
    Stephanie

    • Of course Stephanie, I would be really honoured if you copied it, it was such fun to make and it has provided endless fun every day, we are all in love with it! I would love some of your snow, if only you could send some over, no chance here, it is so mild, we are around 60F every day, but then I can’t complain, because it’s lovely to walk outside in a shirt and not freeze! Have a lovely weekend xx

      • I have some fun ideas in my head for the advent calendar! Thank you! ❤️ In fact it could be fun to have every member of my family bring something to put on it at our 🦃 meal. The wheels are a “churning.” 😉
        I love the weather you are having! I remember when I attended Mimi’s Workshop in December last year it was 50 degrees. It was great weather to walk around in. The French were so VERY kind to my girlfriend and me❤️☃️.
        Stephanie

      • There are so many things you can do with an advent calendar like this. We filled each day with a few extra little chocolates so that visiting friends could join in and it has been a huge hit. So pleased we did it. I am just a little envious of your workshop last year, I know it was fantastic! The weather is just the same this year, after our one cold snap, it’s quite bizarre really. Guess we will have to go away to get some snow! xx

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