Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (but not in France)

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Some of the things we have discovered about this time of year in France:

Most firms only have one day off for Christmas. And if Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday, tough, you don’t get any time off.

On 6th December Santa Claus calls by with biscuits and chocolates for children who have been good – and an evil character with a whip accompanies him, in case anyone has been naughty!

The French don’t send many cards, particularly before Christmas. Some are sent throughout January to send good wishes for the New Year. Don’t make the same mistake as me and wish Happy New Year in December. It is considered to bring bad luck.

Christmas is about eating. There is a big meal around midnight on 24th called the Réveillon, then everyone starts on another big meal on Christmas Day. These have been known to last for three or four hours so it’s a test of stamina.

There are no crackers, no Carol Services, no mince pies or Christmas cake and a Yule Log replaces Christmas pudding for dessert.

Its also the start of the skiing seasons. Several of my students will be disappearing to go skiing around Christmas.

Oranges and lemons

y3msc_orangeslemons At one of the advanced English classes I handed out the words for Oranges and Lemons and explained the children’s game and the origin of the words – debtors at the Tower of London, church bells that can be heard from there, guard with candle telling prisoners that their turn for the chop would be tomorrow.  Understandably, the students found this rather gruesome as a children’s game.

However the tables were turned when on Saturday I went to a local concert where our french teacher was singing. I didn’t catch all the words but there seemed to be one song about a butcher chopping up some children and between each verse there was a cheerful tra,la,la.  At our next french lesson I asked for an explanation of this cheerful song. She explained that it was the Legend of St Nicholas. Three children were gleaning food in the countryside and it was late so when they came across a butcher they asked if he could put them up for the night. He agreed readily and that night he chopped them all into small pieces and put them in a cauldron of brine, as he would with a pig. seven years later St Nicholas stopped by at the same butcher’s for the night. When he was offered some food he said he would like the salted meat from seven years ago. The butcher trembled when he realised he was found out. St Nicholas said he would be forgiven if he repented. He then brought the three children back to life, tra,la,la.

I suppose the french version does at least have a happier ending.

A very special pub crawl

Last weekend was Open Day for many of the sparkling wine producers in Saumur. We had been invited by one of my students to the ‘caves’ of La Grenelle where she was exhibiting her paintings. (Incidentally, ‘caves’ is french for wine cellars but in the region around Saumur these are often real caves carved out of limestone.) A high class restaurant was also present so we tasted some of their delicaces as well as the sparkling wine.

Dany Rodriguez in front of her paintings. She has displayed her paintings throughout France.

Dany Rodriguez in front of her paintings. She has displayed her paintings throughout France.

From there we drove to La Veuve Amiot where there was a Christmas market. It was great to see people enthusiastic about speciality bread, mushrooms, home-sewn articles, Italian cheese and home-made jams and jellies. We bought some wine jelly and some dandelion petal jelly made with sugar and agar agar – something to investigate next Spring.

Our next stop was Ackerman where we were tempted by ‘chocolat divin’.  It’s certainly true that bubbly and high class chocolates go very well together. Again, the making of the bubbly was explained and then we wandered past many stallholders showing their wonderful chocolate creations.

Fortunately we made it home without coming across any gendarmes!