Santa, Olives and Truffles
It just so happens that the season of Noël in Provence coincides with the harvesting of olives, and the heart of the truffle season. So in the midst of the rural villages planning and preparing their annual ‘Marché de Noël’ decorating the quiet streets with acknowledgements of Christmas, and the Marie’s office hosting their ‘Fêtes de Noël et l’Année Nouvelle,’ you will see the olive groves full of harvesters, and hear talk of the truffle season among the villagers. It is the time to prune vineyards and cherry groves, and brushwood and trimmings are being burned, now that the danger of summer fires has passed.
The mild Provencial weather alone creates a feeling of a slow holiday pace at this time of holiday celebration. People are still enjoying the outdoors, and profiting from the weather. Children are still seen running around on the playground with coats off, despite protests from their parents, and the relative warmth is in no way a reminder that December 25 is around the corner! A ‘white Christmas’ is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. But Christmas in Provence is a special time, and full of historical and family tradition. In most homes, and throughout the villages, you will see the traditional crèche, displaying provincial ‘santons’ in dress and costume of many years past.
Children are busy writing their letters to ‘Père Noël’ which, if mailed at any poste in France, will be answered by ‘Père Noël’ himself! Shops are eager to share their assortment of chocolates, candied fruits, nougat, and other variations of the traditional ‘treize desserts.’ For the celebration of a traditional ‘Provencial’ Christmas Eve includes a dinner of vegetables and fish, followed by attending an evening service at church. Families then return home for the ’13 desserts’ consisting of various dried fruits and nuts, candied fruits, and nougat. ‘Père Noël’ comes late at night while the children are sleeping, leaving gifts under the tree for children of all ages.
Christmas day is full of family time and of course, a wonderful mid-day meal. The commercialism of Christmas is hard to find in Provence. Perhaps it is because the weather is mild, and people are outside working in the fields, harvesting olives, searching for truffles, and enjoying the outdoors. The media are less prevalent, and thus the commercialism that you see so readily in the US is just not visible.
In Provence, we simply are doing less, and don’t feel caught up in any of the Christmas hype that can so easily be felt elsewhere. My own children are busy cutting snowflakes out of paper to decorate the house, and cutting pictures from magazines to hang as tree ornaments. Somehow the Christmas season just feels simple, low-key, and as it should be. I suspect that from this point forward, we will try to model our own Christmas traditions after the simple and lovely focus on the family that is found here in Provence.