It’s Christmas Eve on the Côte d’Azur. This week we’ve been enjoying the sights and sounds of Christmas on the streets, in the post office, at the market, by the seaside, in the restaurants. Christmas is big in Catholic France. The patisseries are decorated with their bûches de Noël (Christmas cakes) creatively and lovingly fashioned to look as simple as a Yule log or as fancy as a wedding cake. And people are buying them up tout de suite (quickly) in order to ensure the perfect dessert for le Réveillon (translated as the waking up or reviving)--their Christmas Eve feast.
Dinners might include foie gras (duck or goose liver), escargots (snails), saumon (salmon), rôti de boeuf (roast beef) or oie (goose), frommage (cheese), and bûches de Noël. And in many homes, des huitres (oysters) are king. Oysters are ubiquitous in the markets. Arranged on flats in plywood boxes, they occupy the large spaces between the aisles near the fish section; and it’s been the odd day in December when we go through the supermarket line without a box in someone’s arms near us.
To get into the Christmas spirit, we drove down to the port of Frejus and along the sea toward St. Raphael. The roads were much more crowded than expected considering it was close to six on Christmas Eve. There were lots of last-minute Christmas shoppers and gawkers, but we were not deterred.
Au contraire, we were enchanted with lights—twinkling and still, white and brilliant colors, in recognizable shapes and graceful sparkling fountains. The boat in the roundabout was emblematic of Frejus’ history as an ancient Roman port. Still a welcoming harbor, there were plenty of boats in the calm sea.
Santa greeted all comers in his glory sitting atop the light show theatre. We were drawn to the sound of music coming from the cathedral in St. Raphael and hurried in that direction. We arrived in time to see a spectacular sound and light show with accompanying music. We stood stunned with all others in the little square watching as the façade of the church was animated with clocks, elves, birds, and finally, Mary and Jesus.
We meandered through the Christmas market that was still busy with people drinking mulled wine and buying santons (little saints)--hand-crafted Provençal figurines. Children delighted in the decorated trees and lighted reindeer. We walked back to our car as the crowds began to thin, and on the drive back found that the roads were nearly empty, which warmed my heart imagining all those frenetic shoppers finally in their homes surrounded by family enjoying leur Réveillon. Notre Réveillon (our feast) was enjoyed in the hotel room to include wine, bread, cheese, fruit and chocolate. As we do every Christmas Eve at home while wrapping gifts, we watched Christmas mass from the Vatican--this time on Italian t.v.
My three children are over 6,000 miles away, making this the first Christmas that I’ve not been with at least two of them. It’s an odd and lonely feeling as we near the end of our three months in France; but our Christmas Eve in the streets of Frejus and St. Raphael and our own “feast” has made me feel quite festive. I hold you all in my heart and wish you a happy Christmas.