The Week Between
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
The week between Christmas and New Years' is one of my favorite times of the year. While I love the holiday season and truly enjoy celebrating Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us, December 26 always comes as something of a relief. With the traditions and tasks accomplished, I can relax into the lingering festive atmosphere, without any agenda. Whether I experience a burst of creativity or a sudden desire to organize closets, my soul seems to sense we are finishing out one season and preparing to head into another.
I love exploring culture, the similarities, and the differences between peoples. It’s been a delight to discover how holidays are celebrated here, where even comparable activities have that unique French flavor.
In the south of France, Christmas traditions include elaborate nativity scenes, created each year anew in homes and churches. Using santons, tiny clay figures, they depict Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus (who does not appear until Christmas eve) as well as the village and its tradesmen and women. The baker and his boulangerie, the blacksmith, a woodsman carrying a bundle of sticks on his back, always shepherds and sheep, all in traditional local garb, fill out the scene.
St.Hippolyte du Fort's Christmas "crêche", made in 2018 by our local Catholic church
Below: St. Hippolyte du Fort Catholic church's Christmas crèche this year
As Americans who have lived long in France, we are a bon mélange, a good blend of the customs we grew up with and delightful discoveries in our adopted culture. When we lived in Paris many years ago, our family doctor, on a house call (yes, it was not uncommon at that time!), stopped in front of our Christmas tree and declared, "It is so British!" He couldn't explain it further, but I think I understand. Our ornaments span the years of our marriage, travels, plus our children's creations. The general "style" is traditional, albeit eclectic. It made me aware of how much our American Christmas traditions were initially drawn from England, nurtured along by Dickens' literature.
In contrast, French Christmas decorations tend towards modern, sophisticated. Blues and purple predominate rather than red and green. When I first observed this in Paris years ago, my internal reaction was comical, as if this broke some Christmas law. I laughed at myself as I processed the fact that there is no Christmas requirement or biblical mandate for red and green! It's traditional in many places, and I love it. But there are multiple ways to celebrate the hope and light of the birth of Jesus.
In the past few years here, there is a trend in the other direction, toward the rustic, homespun, Scandinavian-style in personal Christmas decorating, which I love. However, here's what our town's decorations look like this year:
Christmas decorations stay up here well into January. Epiphany, the coming of the wise men following an unusual star, seeking truth, is celebrated January 6, with galettes des rois, king's cakes made of pâte feuilleté, puff pastry, with a delicious almond filling. Tucked inside each cake is a tiny porcelain fève or favor. When served, the youngest person must go under the table, and from there, call out the names of those present, giving the order the portions are served. If the fève is evident, falling out of the side of a slice, the person indicating who gets it is doing so unaware from under the table–that is if everyone else keeps quiet about it! This is important because whoever receives the fève is king or queen for the day. A golden paper crown is included with each purchased galette des rois for the newly named sovereign.
Over the years, I've collected fèves and particularly love the ones that tell the Christmas story or reflect a region's history. I save the Spiderman and Smurfette ones for my grandkids!
Speaking of food, it appears that the average French person spends a considerable amount on their holiday meals. The grocery stores overflow with fresh shellfish, smoked salmon, foie gras, and various game birds: turkeys to pintade (guinea fowl) and capon (a…um…castrated rooster. I try not to think about it.) Not to mention a plethora of champagnes, wines, and other festive beverages.
We've added some of these to our Christmas traditions, including moules (mussels) and exotic fruit imported from sub-equatorial French territories such as Reunion Island and Vietnam. Oh, and the clémentines! We must eat 2-3 a day, popping them in like candy as our bodies thank us for the fresh vitamin C.
This week between Christmas and New Year can be full of nostalgia, especially as we look back over the past year. This one was epic, but that doesn't change the truth that each day is a gift that we can never reclaim. Choosing to live fully, no matter the circumstances, not waiting for things "to be better" brings peace and a sense of satisfaction into the present.
As the calendar page turns to 2021, we wonder more than ever what the future will hold. I believe we all sense our world has changed irrevocably, even if we don't know exactly where we're headed. But that doesn't need to rob us of hope, especially the kind anchored in faith in a good and ever-present God. Trust in him is never misplaced and renders us unshaken, free from fear.
I'm grateful for this tiny transitional season, including gaining wisdom as I review the past year and ponder what is ahead.
Blessings and peace be upon you as we enter 2021.
La vie est belle.