A speculative Christmas in France


By Callum Ruddock, Third Year Politics and International Relations Student

The Croft Magazine // Callum Ruddock imagines a Christmas at his Grandmother’s house in the south of France - the sights, smells and the memories yet to be forged.

This year, Christmas will be decidedly foreign; and whilst we’re amidst a divisive debate on whether us Brits are really that different or not, it’s time for me, a European wannabe, to imagine the festive season ‘en France’. It is not yet Christmas so we will have to speculate. What will I find in the land of good wine? Will there be conflict? Will there be drinking? I know for sure there are going to be stories of travel; join me then as we explore Yule Tide French style.

Why France you may wonder? My family’s bond with France is nothing new. It stems from friendships formed by my Grandmother who'd spent her later years building lasting connections and speaking her most fluent of French in her Pyrenean garden; a garden that remains the backdrop for many happy memories. These memories end in sadness. Her death drew our relationship with those towns, typical of the south of France, into stark perspective. It was decided then that as a family, we should commit ourselves to serious engagement with the people of Midi-Pyrénées. Here I am, a few years on, preparing for a Christmas that has not yet come. Strange days indeed.

Christmas in nearby Rhônes-Alpes | Epigram / Lily Donnelly

Christmas will likely begin with the Réveillon de Noël – a long feast of sorts held on Christmas Eve. No roasts here, the vegetarian in me will be exposed to capon stuffed with chestnuts and oysters with bran bread and butter. Next comes the famed ‘Les Treize’. As if all the gluttony wasn’t enough, thirteen desserts will be served to bloated family members. A tradition originating in Provence, my father’s acclaimed appetite will lay waste to the sweets, fruits and nuts that will lie before him. Personal allergies aside, I will avoid the brazils.

Perhaps family friends will stop by with gifts. Presents tending to be a little bit more understated here, quality over quantity being the name of the game. I figure they will notice our arrival. Both quiet and filled with gossip, village life is a rare thing that can reward and punish one’s actions in equal measure. Rumours spread fast, ‘oh look the Brits are here’. Will the gens du coin - the local people - welcome our return at midnight mass?

"Next comes the famed 'Les Treize'...thirteen desserts will be served"

Our family will throw tinsel together. Is decora achieved when attempting to transplant my Anglo-Saxon custom onto an olive tree? In the shadow of a cliff we find my Grandmother’s Mediterranean courtyard. White pebbles carpet the ground, a few tomato plants grow in wooden boxes, and small olive trees stand rooted waiting for me to pick their bitter harvest come summer. A couple of cold metal seats surround an old table. Here I will sit and rest. I will think of my Grandmother’s words and admire the way she spoke about the world, mainly because I feel that her stoic honesty was always truthful. Sometimes hard to hear, but always truthful.

What is travelling then if not an effort to capture reality? To discover the truth about somewhere. We don’t travel to merely observe and move on, and I certainly don’t write about travel to exclude people. I write to describe places and things we can all access when we step outside of our comfort zone and commit to the art of travelling.

Festive France | Epigram / Lily Donnelly

As I head off to bed then, I intend to slide my shoes in front of the fireplace or stove. Fill them with goodies for ‘Gui’, Père Noël’s Christmas donkey; scoff a few papillotes - chocolates containing sweet messages - and fingers crossed, come Christmas morning, they should be full of gifts. I hope we will walk as a family; I’m sure we’ll bicker and laugh. Though to me all these things are trivial, and don’t really matter. I will be happy, with all my family around me and fond memories of loved ones to share. Christmas will be just like home.

Featured image: Epigram / Lily Donnelly

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