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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

Holidays 2001

The Holidays are here!
Noël! Noël!

Nowhere in France is Christmas more celebrated than in the Alsace region. “Christkindelsmarïk”, as Strasbourg’s annual market is called, dates back to 1570 and reflects the mixed French and German heritage of the region. There's a giant Christmas tree (sapin) on the Place Kléber, and nearby Place Brogli hosts the world famous holiday market, featuring traditional decorations, culinary specialties, handcrafted items, plus all sorts of festive events including concerts, expositions, performances, living crèches and more. The celebration starts in late November and continues until early January.


Christmas in Strasbourg is festive!


Saint Nicolas, patron des écoliers

 StNicArrive.jpg (50240 bytes)
...arrives in Paris in 21st century style

     Christmas in France is a family-and-food centered celebration, starting in early December with the traditional table wreath, holding six candles to be lit for each week of Advent. December 6 is the feast of Saint Nicolas, a most important friend of school children, le saint patron des écoliers. Traditionally, especially in the north of France, children place their shoes (sabots or souliers, in the old-fashioned vernacular) by the hearth on the eve of December 6 so that Saint Nicolas can leave cookies, candies, fruits and nuts. Thus the season begins.
     Each year, crowds anxiously awaited the arrival of Saint Nicolas on the streets of Paris. Not to be confused with Santa Claus in NYC's Macy's parade, this year Saint Nicolas arrived in Paris in style...dressed in traditional style, but riding in a SMART car (you know, the roller skate with a small engine). But regardless of whether he arrives in a sled, a SMART, or on foot, Saint Nicolas is welcomed by all and marks the official beginning of the holiday season.

     Patisseries and boulangeries are always filled with scrumptious goodies, but during the holiday season, it’s no holds barred for creativity and festivity. Chocolates, candies, special gateaux, and of course the Bûche de Noël (Yule Log) abound. It’s a feast for the eyes as much as for the palate, and a few hours wandering the streets just window shopping can be incredibly satisfying and motivating.
     Christmas Eve, le Reveillon, includes Midnight Mass, with dinner either before or after. If you’re in a smaller city or town, you’ll certainly know when to head out for Mass because the Christmas bells call for 15 minutes prior to the service. The Reveillon menu might include a variety of seafoods, particularly oysters, with champagne; and in Provence the 13 Desserts (les Treizes) are served as part of Reveillon. Christmas Day dinner is a long round of good eating, starting with foie gras on toast, smoked salmon, then a full-dressed chapon (capon) or pintade (guinea hen), followed by a cheese course, then desserts, then mignardises with a digestif liqueur, and finally an expresso to top things off. All of this is interwoven with a variety of wines to suit tastes and food, and it’s an all-afternoon into the evening event. Not much dropping in and out goes on in France…when you’re invited to eat, you’re in for the full event!
     As Christmas winds down, everyone looks forward to the next Reveillon, New Year’s Eve, when all give thanks and cheer for the coming year. But the holidays aren’t yet over…the Feast of the Kings arrives on January 6 and continues through the entire month of January. More on that later though. Meanwhile, Joyeux Noël à tout le monde!

Cookies for the Fête de St. Nicolas and
 the traditional Bûche de Noël 

        

  ChocHouse.jpg (127314 bytes)

Patisseries
  fill with gorgeous goodies,
including this chalet chocolat

ThankYoudiplome.gif (137179 bytes)
The French government wants to say merci to WW II allied soldiers

 

 


A gift from France
Un cadeau français
The French government is involved in a thank-you project that is gratifying to hear about in these difficult times. French authorities are issuing a certificate to recognize the participation of all American and allied soldiers who took part in World War II in France. The certificate is meant to express the gratitude of the French people to the soldiers who participated in the Normandy landing and liberation of France, on French territory and in French territorial waters and airspace, between June 6, 1944 and May 8, 1945. In each of the fifty states, the French Consulates General, state Veterans Affairs Offices, Veterans Service Organizations’ national and states representatives, and Veterans Associations will identify the eligible veterans for presentation of these certificates at a ceremony organized by these groups. So far more than 1,500 certificates have been awarded in the New England area alone. Unfortunately, the certificate will not be issued posthumously. If you or anyone you know might be a candidate, contact your Veterans’ Association or the French Embassy website for more information. What a lovely way to celebrate the holidays and give thanks in this new century. Merci, vraiment!

A gift from a Frenchman
Un cadeau d'un Français

This past November, photographer James Nachtwey offered nine of his very moving photographs from "Ground Zero" to the Paris auction house, Drouot, with proceeds of the sales to go to the NYC Firemen's Association. Right away, the pictures were snapped up for the sum of 500,000 francs (approximately $70,000), considered a huge price in the current market for photojournalistic photographs. At first, the buyer wished to remain anonymous. But then, Jean-Marie Messier, president of Vivendi Universel, a French media/communications conglomerate, made himself known, and immediately gave the photographs to the firemen of New York. Beau geste, oui?



So many goodies...

Gifts for those francophiles on your list?
Cadeaux pour les francophiles?

We wouldn't presume to try to influence your gift-giving, but as we work on finding tidbits of France and things French for our readers, things just pop up that we'd sure like to see under our sapin. Books always top our wish/gift list, and there are a number of new (and old) books that are sure to please any francophile, including Patricia Wells' new Paris Cookbook. For a real splurge, how about a cooking class at her farmhouse in Provence? You can find details on these classes at www.patriciawells.com -- good for ideas, or at least a little armchair dreaming. Better yet, hit our Books pages (or Music or Film) for some suggestions on what to read, see or listen to in the coming year.
     Think France, think food...and there are all sorts of goodies available as delicious additions to holiday celebrations. Wine, tapenades, pastries, chocolates, foie gras, confits, confitures, patés...local gourmet shops and even some grocery stores seem to have more and more French food products on their shelves. We've been customers of Table & Vine (formerly Big Y) of Northampton, Massachusetts for a number of years, and always find a good selection of wines from France...at prices ranging from $5 to $250 a bottle, depending on your taste and wallet. Their website, www.tableandvine.com, provides a full inventory, shipping info (they ship almost everywhere in the US), and they also offer specialty foods from France. 
     But fromages...still difficult to find the real thing here in the US. But you can get the finest and freshest authentic French cheeses delivered from France by overnight service to arrive in time for any soirée or dinner that you're planning. Check out Fromages.com for selections, suggestions, and delivery information. It's different, delicious, and very easy. 
     Some French products are difficult to get in the States at this point, but one company from Provence (Manosque), l'Occitane, has jumped into the market with a number of stores all over America and Europe, and an on-line shopping center. Soaps, fragrances, candles, lotions, and much more -- in a variety of scents and packages -- make great gifts for the holidays or anytime.
     If you know of any items, sources, centers for French products, let us know and we'll check them out. We're hoping to build more information for shopping francophiles in the coming year. 

That rounds out our Holiday 2001 edition. Next month we'll be back "on the scene" in Uzès, France.
Be sure to keep in touch via email...we love to hear from you.
Bonne année!

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