Getting Festive in France

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The countdown to Christmas has seriously begun, every year it seems to come round quicker and quicker and now here we are with just over a week until the big day. Time to get decorating. I know for many of you this is late, but I guess it is a family tradition, when I was growing up the tree never went up until the 23rd, I’ve brought it forward somewhat. It’s a date that is looked forward to with great anticipation, it’s very much a family affair that takes all weekend and more!


First up there is the trip out into the garden with at least two trugs waiting to be filled. Despite our more than soggy weather of late we managed to find a few fine hours to cut and gather and then we got to work. The fireplace is where I like to have fun, our pair of golden doves are resident all year round but they seem to come into their own when swathed in fresh foliageP7840253

and with the advent of my online brocante shop this year it seemed only right that a piece of antique French Ironstone should be included. Who says a tureen has to be just for food?P7840245


We’ve had the gold apples which are made of wood for as long as I can remember and each year they make an appearance.P7840242P7840262

Some things never change, very rarely do I go out and buy new decorations, unless I see something that really catches my eye that I know will carry memories well into the future. However, I do like to mix it up a little and for some reason this year I decided that I really wanted to embrace what we have growing and thriving in our own garden. It was rather an organic affair, one idea led to another, I found myself heading outside armed with secateurs several times to cut yet more foliage, concentrating on ivy (always good to remove and thus doing a little work at the same time) and juniper which smells so fabulous.


Perhaps it is the troubled times around the world, it wasn’t a conscious decision as such, but something in my sub conscience wanted to keep everything as natural as possible, to embrace the simplicity of evergreens. In my childhood every picture in the house had a sprig of holly or a piece of ivy over it, and I’ve recreated this idea but I like to think a little more artistically, letting the ivy fall naturally and trail in its own unruly direction.P7840288

Our entrance hall is the first thing anyone sees when they come to visit and having only just finished completely redecorating it I knew it could not escape a sprinkling of festivity.P7840300

But one has to remember that this is a busy household of 7 plus two dogs and one house cat. People are coming and going all the time, school bags, sports bags, shoes and of course, as it’s winter, coats, thick winter wear that all has to be readily accessible. You see there is no point at all in getting fussy, this has to be robust decoration for the real world and a real family!P7840303

And just to add a little rustic touch to all the sparkle I put the huge bunch of holly in an old zinc bucket.P7840295

Finally we turned our attention to the star of the show, the tree itself. We chose it last weekend amidst our usual half hour debate at the garden centre, extolling the merits of each tree and not content until we had chosen the perfect specimen, the children wonderfully stubborn and vocal with their choices! But despite such good planning as luck would have it when it came time to bring it indoors yesterday it was raining. In came one sopping wet tree, out came the mops and towels as we let it drip dry on the tiled floor for an hour before decorating could commence! Millie started with the lights, our ceilings are high, about 11′ or 12′ so you can see the size of the tree, a ladder is vital!P7840267P7840275P7840271

Every year the children take it in turn to put the star on top. With five of them this means they only get this honour once every five years and trust me it is a Big deal! This year was Jack’s turn. Everyone was called to attention, camera at the ready, by the time he gets the chance again he will neither be at school nor a teenager!P7840277

When it’s done there is nothing left but to sit back and admire and enjoy it for the coming weeks. There is no theme to our tree, ever. These are all decorations which tell a story, many are gifts from a very dear friend in Connecticut who we haven’t seen in a very long time, but she knows who she is and every year we toast her as we individually unwrap each of them. Another firm favourite is our Nutcracker from friends in Kentucky. It’s a time of year when traditions are important and absent friends are never forgotten.P7840306

With a house nearly decorated and lots of empty boxes and a lot of tidying up to do we awoke this morning to a kitchen filled with sunshine and breakfast talk seemed to be all about gingerbread houses. “It’s ages since we made one” was the general opinion and that’s true, it’s a few years since I iced and decorated with little helping hands. P7840294

Later in the day I was taking Millie to catch her train back to University. A last week of exams to get through before her holidays begin. I had no idea that those little hands which are now so much bigger had made plans. Hetty had been designing in her head and looking up recipes for gingerbread. She baked the house, cutting out the shapes for the windows and doors long before it went into the oven. This was not a kit house, not available here anyway, this was made from scratch! She persuaded Roddy to take her into town to buy a mass of candy at the supermarket, open until midday on a Sunday. Yes it’s sugar overload but wow, this is what greeted me on my return. The attention to detail is what grabbed me the most, the icicles, the wreath above the door, the dark brown doormat. It is of course way too good to eat but certainly worthy of several photos!


And that expression, caption it if you dare because I truly don’t know what she was thinking!!


60 thoughts on “Getting Festive in France

  1. Susan, I love this post. I feel as if I was right there with the family. Jack has gotten so tall. The expression on Gigi’s face shouts, but I only stole one candy!!
    Hetty is brilliant. That is one of the most beautiful gingerbread houses that I’ve seen, such artistry….maybe architecture down the road 🙂

    I think a Christmas story needs to happen, only if you have time of course…
    Love and hugs to the ENTIRE Hays family.
    Ali xx

  2. How cool that you find the blue juniper to be so useful. I had to plant a similar or same blue juniper specifically for cut foliage. Compared to the other ‘common’ junipers, it has the best aroma. Eastern red cedar might have a better aroma, but not such good foliar texture.

    1. It is very useful when you can find a use for it, 🙂 But it does also provide shade for cats and dogs in summer, and it’s a great habitat for some of Roddy’s spiders that do not occur anywhere else in the garden. I like it also because it’s also quite ‘clean’ to use. Wishing you a great 2019!

  3. Thank you so much for this sweet post. I absolutely love your tree and traditions. I have become so weary of what I call “department store trees” shown in homes. Our tree is decorated with ornaments we have collected, others made by our children and other family members. Over 50 years ago, when we were first married and there was no money for decorating, I made ornaments shaped out of cotton string and glue. The were painted when dry and appropriately glittered. The only ones left are our names, but they are treasured. That gingerbread house is quite an accomplishment. It was also great to see pics of Jack. We get more glimpses of the girls. Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi Sheran – thank you for your comment – and i totally agree with the individual history of ornaments. There is of course one problem – when you break one, and it is a rare christmas when that does not happen, especially with cats and dogs on the scene, sigh. We hope you had a great Christmas too 🙂

  4. Like you, when I was a child our tree never went up until a few days before Xmas and I still keep to this tradition if I have a tree. (some years I’m working all through it so don’t bother)
    Was planning to see the tree at Wakehurst Place this week but they are charging £12.95 for the pleasure….ouch!
    Love all the foliage you’ve used, bet the house smells wonderful.

    1. Well, I hope you found looking at our tree cheaper, Fiona. Though to be fair, you have given me an idea for next year – to charge you all inordinate amounts of money to see photos of the tree!! 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful 2019 XX

  5. Lovely photos of a “real Christmas” with a “Real Family”…….charming , warm and cozy!! Great gingerbread creation.

  6. What a charming post. You have a beautiful family. Our tree is standing, lights on, but no decorations as yet. That will happen later this evening. Like yours, ours is not a theme tree, but a collection of ornaments given and collected through the years, each with a story to tell.
    What a lovely gingerbread house your daughter created. Her initiative and talent will take her far. Joyeux Noel. Merry Christmas.

    1. Hi Lorrie! Thank you so much for your kind comment – it seems everyone likes the real thing, doesn’t it? Perfectly imperfect as my mother would have put it. I would not have it any other way. Have a wonderful 2019! xx

  7. I love your decorated mantle especially the yellow Doves and the golden apples…..Beautiful and what a masterpiece that Gingerbread house turned out to be..Very talented daughter……Wishing you and you family a very Happy Christmas…

    1. Between you and me, Elizabeth, I think the mantelpiece is a vital ingredient in a big room, and they do need so TLC. And I love how ours looks with some dressing up. The gingerbread house was a huge hit, although I have to admit that after a few days it did look as though Napoleon’s army had camped in its garden overnight. Have a wonderful 2019 XX

  8. Lovely tree! I don’t mind having ours up a week before but I absolutely cannot bear looking at it after New Year’s. It will be out again by the time we enjoy our first ‘galette des rois’. Your daughter looks to me like she’s either fighting off a monster or ready to eat the entire house!

    1. Ha! She was only pretending to eat it – she is, in fact sugar-free – by choice as well. So she makes a vast amount of things that she never gets to eat, simply because she loves to cook. Some of her sugar-free recipes are to die for too. Have a wonderful 2019 XX

  9. The gingerbread house is a master piece!
    I was puzzled at first at your mention of using juniper, imagining the wild stuff that you get the berries from and is viciously prickly. But I think you must be using one from the garden that is non-native and has more cypressy foliage.

    1. That’s the one, low growing and spreading – ours was here when we came, and it has not grown an inch really so I suspect it is ancient and quite old. Wishing you all the best for this year and the bumpy ride ahead sigh XXX

  10. I love your decorations – natural and from the countryside. My parents hated Christmas and we found out this week one of our neighbours doesn’t like it either – is that a French thing? Over the last few years we have been living in friends or rental over Christmas, and not had a chance to decorate our home – but next year will be full throttle.

    1. I have always thought that the New Year is more important than Christmas for many French, that’s why it’s so low key in many houses. It may be that? Whatever though, I wish you a splendid and wonderful one next year!!! Have a great 2019, and wish you all the best ! XX

  11. Dear Susan,
    I love this post; so festive and full of joy! Now, you are ready for your Christmas. Jack is so tall, i did not recognize him.
    I, especially, like your use of Ironstone on your mantel. I have an old round British Ironstone which i bought for pennies because it is cracked and without a lid. I love to put a poinsettia in it and display somewhere in the kitchen. I never see poinsettias in pictures from France, are they available to you?
    But the Best is Hetty’s masterpiece, the gorgeous gingerbread house. So clever, the way she did the icing heavy snow
    roof, just perfect. Also, love the scattering of candies around the house. Hetty is very creative and the fact that she took the initiative to do it by herself…..Wonderful.

    My best wishes to you and your family for a special Christmas! Joyeux Noel. Enjoy!
    Hugs to all, Patty

    1. Patty, I can only say that ALL I see in every shop and at every market here in France, are poinsettias… 🙂 But you might be right in saying that they don’t appear in pictures, are you talking about paintings? Or photos? I’m always amazed how observant so many people are! Happy days to you Kiki

    2. Hi Patty, poinsettias are very popular here; we normally have a couple, and this year had we guests in the gite so took the opportunity to put one in there too, and a small tree to boot!! I love the idea of putting one in an ironstone pot – will have to remember that for next year! The gingerbread house was a great hit, we might be getting a second one today I believe with all four sisters in attendance. Have a wonderful New Year XXX

  12. Everything looks so festive & beautiful! Always enjoy pictures & blog – Thanks so much! Merry Christmas to you and family!!

  13. How beautiful it all looks! I love all the ivy and foliage around the house, it looks lovely. I did that 2 years ago when I didn’t have a tree, just ivy everywhere and a big branch from the garden which I wrapped lights around. I think it was my favourite look actually.
    I have kept decorations from years ago too, they bring back happy memories, which are
    so relevant at Christmas time.

    Wishing you all a very happy Christmas Susan. xx

  14. Susan; this is absolutely wonderful. I LOVE your use of much greenery in your house and it reminds me of my OTT craziness in my former tiny house in Switzerland….. Guirlandes, green stuff, lights and pine cones, baubles, felt decos, ivy, beautiful ribbons….. can’t do that here as my stairs are having no banisters! I have greenery over the wrought iron handrails in front of my door, every window sill is decorated, as are the windows, and right now at this moment I’m surrounded by …. wait ….. (counting) 14 candles – plus several fairy lights guirlands.
    But then – that ginger bread house – is incredibly stunning – what a GREAT baker your Hetty is. My fillings are falling out just looking at this beauty! You know that I’m not a ‘sweets’ person but looking at this kind of artistic expression nearly makes me like to eat these goodies! And Jack, my dear, dear boy whom I took into my heart immediately – he grows by the minute….
    You have such a glorious tree; all the discussions were worth the time. It has beautiful strong branches and is so invitingly decorated. I wanna know more about your new doggie baby… Thank You for this post. Love and kisses to all of you – keep well and happy!

  15. I noticed the lovely paintings of the gentlemen on your stairway, especially the one you have had for sale on Etsy (that I have admired). Something tells me you decided to keep it yourself? That makes me smile. This year Is the first time I get to put up my tree after a house fire two years ago. Many of my favorite ornaments were lost, but a few were saved. Those got front and center this year!

    1. We go round and round with our art collection – sometimes we think it’s time to move something one, and then days later we’ll find somewhere else for it to live. I am never sure to be honest, what exactly is on the shop, and what is not. However, we are so lucky to have so much art, from both sides of the family, and I am always grateful for that – personally, the ‘old men’ may stay in the hall for a while, I think they look great there. I think we have another portrait somewhere, I just have to find it ! Have a wonderful 2019! XXX

  16. Wow is all I can say. Good to see a real family enjoying Christmas…no staging here. So refreshing. I love it all. I felt like I was there too.

  17. Thank you 😉
    Hetty, that’s the most brilliant gingerbread house I’ve ever seen!!!!! It’s really special. You should be so proud of yourself! And to surprise Mama too. Xoxoxo
    I’m so happy to see your beautiful mantle and tree!!!
    I’m so warmed by being with you all before Christmas, as I really feel that way.
    Love to all and Merry Christmas!!!!!🎄🏡🎄

    1. Time for you to come and visit again, Jamie! We can make a gingerbread house just for you all, then 🙂 Hope you had a fab holiday and wish you all the best for the New Year. Much love from this end XXXX

  18. I too love all the your natural decoration; the mantelpiece with golden apples & birds amongst the greenery above a roaring fire is perfection! Everything around the house looks so pretty & fresh & natural and I’m sure it smells wonderful. I have taken to putting up my little tree early in December, partly because I love the scent in my apartment, and partly to enjoy it for a little while, as I usually spend Christmas elsewhere. I am a Brit, currently living in the US, but with hopes of retiring to the Dordogne in a few years. Your blog is a wonderful inspiration! Happy Holidays to all!

    1. Hello Sarah! Thank you for your kind comments, and I hope your little tree worked its magic again for you this year. I hope your dreams come true, and I hope you come back to visit often. Hope you have a wonderful 2019 XX

  19. What a beautiful tree and gingerbread house!! Good job Hetty! I live all the little candies around the house, don’t know if we have any like that in the US.
    You’ve inspired me to do this with my granddaughter next Christmas when we are together.
    Live the tree and all the greenery. That’s a good tradition to have a different child to the star each year.
    Merry Christmas!

    1. Needs must, Sherry – every child wants to do it each year, so the tradition is quite strictly regimented, lol! Good luck with your gingerbread house too!!! We will need to know how that turned out, so let us know. XXX and best wishes for 2019

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