“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!”
Well, here in the Southwest it is ducks rather than geese, but despite France being a determinedly secular country, there has been an end-of-the-year feeling ever since November. First there was the feast day of St Hubert, who could cure rabies and was the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers, on November 3. Then of St Martin of Tours, patron saint of France who shared his cloak with a beggar, on November 11, and St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students, who gave all his money to the poor, on December 6.
The first week in December is when most people put up their Christmas tree, although when I was a child trees were decorated on Christmas Eve. There areelaborate nativity scenes too, which combine traditional small hand-painted terracotta figurines called santons with both biblical and typically Provençal village characters.
Despite the scent of pinecones and spices in the air and a bright silver moon, the land is sodden. Southeast France has been inundated by miserably wet weather and devastating floods at the same time as New South Wales and Queensland fight fierce fires. A month’s rain fell in a single day in the Ardèche. However it’s a good winter for the ski resorts, which have not been able to open as early as this in over 30 years.
For a fabulous Christmas market you have to go north to Strasbourg, but Christmas and New Year’s Eve feasts here in the Southwestare hard to beat. Oysters are essential and 40 per cent of the French oyster producers’ annual turnover is at this time of year. Every year the fishmongers are concerned that there won’t be enough oysters to go round, but there always seem to be plenty. After the mountains of oysters come platters of lobster or scallops, followed by foie gras, and then roast capon, roast goose or roast turkey, but the French quiver with horror at the thought of plum pudding or Christmas cake, and prefer their own light and delicious Christmas logs, la bûche de Noël, decorated with holly leaves made of sugar. This year we shall all be thinking of André Daguin, the great French chef who ‘invented’ the magret or duck’s breast and foie gras au torchon, and who died onDecember 3. Meals at his Hôtel de France in Auch were unforgettable.
President Macron was elected in 2017 determined to put France’s 42 different pension schemes on a sustainable footing, but the populace do not want their rights reformed and the Yellow Vests have increased general confidence in collective action. Strikes are currently crippling France and no one knows how long they will last. Public transport, the railways, air traffic controllers and even schools and hospitals are on strike . Traffic jams in and around Paris are clogging 200-300 kms of roads and, although the Eiffel Tower has reopened, Versailles is still closed. The only people not on strike appear tobe traffic wardens!
Elsewhere, “Trump’s hit on luxury French goods vindicates Australia’s cautious approach to the digital tax”, said the Sydney Morning Herald, and “Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has described France’s push to force Australia to adopt climate change targets in a planned trade deal with European Union as ‘unprecedented’.”
A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.
“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
Clement Clarke Moore