Growing up in the south of France, I remember loving the build up to the festive season. In our home this began on December 6th, la fête de Saint Nicolas and it was a great time when lots of friends and family would visit us with all sorts of gifts and plenty of lovely food, many cakes and lots of laughter. My grandmother would have all sorts of treats prepared which everyone would enjoy, especially the children.
Christmas is an exciting time wherever you happen to be and each year I do try to keep some of the French traditions I grew up with. I remember helping my grandmother get ready the ‘Crèche de Noël’ which we had in our home instead of a Christmas tree. On the odd occasion we would have to touch up the paint and repair this lovely traditional symbol of Christmas and I would love to play with the toy animals especially the donkey.
Each region of France has its own traditional Christmas feast but most families always have a Bûche de Noël, which is a lovely cake shaped like a log and covered in creamy chocolate (Christmas in Provence). The ones my grandmother made were truly scrumptious and with over twenty people eating a Christmas Eve feast with us, she would always make four of them as well as other great festive cakes and biscuits.
For our Christmas feast, which we always had on the eve of the 25th, we would have a magnificent spread which included lobster, crudités and lots of different pates including foie gras, rillettes and savoury tarts. The main courses were tremendous and included wild boar which an uncle would bring over from Corsica. My grandmother with a little help from the family would prepare goose, duck and venison with a variety of vegetables all superbly glazed with different sauces and coulis. It was a feast fit for kings.
For the next week life was a constant meal time with so many wonderful things to eat and lots of delicious fruit juices that were all home made. My favourite was the citron pressé, a cool lemon drink which really tasted superb with sugar on the rim of the glass. The grown ups would have a variety of alcohols which were all locally produced and we as children were allowed just a little sip of the eau de vie that our neighbour made.
New Year was an extremely social and exciting time too and we would celebrate le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre with another superb feast with foie gras, gibiers and all sorts of cakes and biscuits which were all made by my grandmother. We had a big party that went well on into the early hours of the morning, but at midnight of the Jour de l’Ans everyone would embrace each other under the mistletoe which hung in doorways around the house and on the terrace.
The whole month of December right through to the 6th of January was a celebration with people coming and going all the time and these ended with a magnificent traditional cake called une galette des Rois on the 6th which as children we all loved.
This Christmas I will keep with tradition as we will eat our festive feast on the eve of Christmas and I will make a traditional Bûche de Noël. I love the build up to the festive season and really enjoy all the preparations that go into making a meal to remember which is a legacy I inherited from my grandmother.
Wherever you are Have a Happy Holidays and a Very Happy New Year!