Friday, December 22, 2017

#Christmas Around the World - France

Thanks to my good friend, Lucy Pollard Gott, who also just happened to be my Secret Santa this year, I received as one of my gifts A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories of All Time by Guy de Maupassant, George Sand, Victor Hugo, Paul Arène, Francois Copée, Dominique Fabre. This is a book I've been coveting ever since I posted about upcoming Christmas books in my Christmas in July post last summer. I was beyond thrilled when it was included in my gift. Thanks again, Lucy. Anyway, the book inspired me to do my first Christmas Around the World post this season about France.

Joyeux Noel!

Parts of France begin their Christmas season by celebrating St. Barbara's day on December 4. In southern France, wheat germs are placed in water to soak, then are placed in dishes to germinate near the chimney or a sunny window. The folk tale goes that if the grain grows quickly, the crops will be prosperous in the coming year, but if the grain dies, the crops will be ruined. Children carefully tend this "Barbara grain." On Christmas Eve, it is placed near the creche or manger scene, symbolizing the coming harvest.

According to legend in France, the Virgin Mary gave Lorraine (an area in France) to St. Nicholas as a reward on December 6. Hence, St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Lorraine and he visits each year. On the eve of the day, children in Lorraine (and other areas) hang their stockings by the fire and say a prayer to the saint before bed. The English translation is "Saint Nicholas, my good patron, bring me something good." Children who have been good receive toys and bonbons, and the naughty children receive stout rods. St. Nicholas leaves a reminder to children that he is watching...branches of birch twigs tied with a ribbon.

Christmas Eve or le Noel

Distributing the gifts to the children, church attendance, and family dinners are the usual activities on Christmas Eve. The children arrange their shoes (or boots, for more presents) by the fireplace. Some have their presents placed under the tree. France's version of Santa Claus is le Pere Noel and he does  not travel by sleigh. Instead, he travels on foot accompanied by a donkey who carries the presents. As the children sleep, small toys, candies, and fruits are hung on the Christmas tree, adding to the gifts left by le Pere Noel.

In the larger cities, such as Paris, wining, dining and dancing are common on Christmas Eve. The smaller towns and cities focus more on the religious aspect of Christmas. Since France is predominantly Roman Catholic, midnight masses are celebrated with gloriously lighted churches and cathedrals and joyful sounds of carols and bells are heard.

Upon returning from church, a special dinner is served called le reveillon. This meal consists of baked ham, roast fowl, salads, cake, fruit, bonbons, and wine. There are variations from region to region which might be goose in Alsace or buckwheat cakes with sour cream in Breton. In Paris, oysters, white sausage, a meat pie called tourtiere, roast partridge, or turkey with chestnuts might be served. The entire country embraces the tradition of a cake in the shape of a Yule log, La Buche de Noel. In the distant past, a real Yule log was left burning while families were away at midnight mass. Sometimes the meal was cooked over the fire from the log. This tradition came from pagan origins, called the "feast of fire," which commemorated the winter solstice.

La Creche

The most notable contribution from France to the celebration of Christmas worldwide, which also happens to be the most popular Christmas symbol in French homes and churches, is the creche or manger scene. The original scene was put on as a drama in cathedrals and churches. The manger we know today was actually started by St. Francis of Assisi some time between 1316 and 1334 in Italy. The concept of the creche did not gain popularity until the sixteenth century.

The creche takes a prominent place in French households. The holy family is included, of course, but also people of the village like the mayor, the priest, the policeman, the butcher, and the farmer. Though the creche is put up weeks before Christmas, the baby Jesus is not placed until Christmas morning, and the Magi are not added until the sixth of January, the feast day of the Epiphany.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees gained popularity rather late in France. The first was the holy tree of Christmas presented in the city of Strasbourg in 1605. It was decorated with artificial colored roses, apples, wafers, gold foil, and sweets. The custom of the Christmas tree did not become widely popular until Napoleon planted one for his son in the Tuileries Garden on Christmas day, 1867.

Decorations vary, but are pretty typical. Where opinions differ is in regards to what should placed at the top of the tree. le Pere Noel, and angel, a star, or the infant Jesus.

Different regions of France have their own distinct customs. In Burgundy, children put alms for the poor in little paper bags. In the Maritime Alps, a torchlight procession on skis leads to midnight mass. In the village of Solliesville in Provence, everyone in the town gathers to give bread to twelve children selected as symbols of the twelve apostles, each one receiving an obol of bread, meat, and candies.

New Year's Day

In France, this day is just as important as Christmas. In fact, it's the day for the largest, most common exchange of gifts. The children even get another round of gifts from St. Nicholas. Greeting cards are sent for New Year's Day, as a custom.


Le Jour Des Rois, Fete Des Rois, Day of the Kings, or Feast of Epiphany is on January 6. In Normandy, this day is celebrated with parties. The Cake of the Kings is the crowning glory of the elaborate feast. This thin, round cake is cut in the pantry, covered with a white napkin, and carried into the dining room on a small table. The cake is cut into one or more pieces than there are people in attendance. This extra share, called le part a Dieu, God's share, is intended for the first poor person to come to the door. It's exciting to the celebrants because a small piece of china or a dried bean is baked into the cake. The person who finds it becomes king or queen of the party and, choosing a partner, they rule the feast.

Source: Christmas Worldwide: A Guide to Customs and Traditions by Cathy C. Tucker

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Add this to your #holiday reading list...The Ornaments by Serafina Johns - Review

My thoughts
I love sweet, heartwarming stories at Christmastime and The Ornaments delivered. Not only that, it's set in Victorian times, which also fueled my passion for historical fiction.

At 71 pages, this book is the perfect length for the busy holiday season. Themes of family, tradition and forgiveness are all present...very important in a Christmas tale. The author also captured the feel of the Victorian times, right down to the husband being the ruler of the household.

I recommend this book as a wonderful addition to anyone's Christmas library. It's going in my collection and I'm sure I will revisit it in years to come.

About the book
The Ornaments is the tale of four Victorian Christmas ornaments and their journey. Pretty ornaments start out fresh and new but over the years, like their owners, they're altered by age and experience. What happens when they are no longer perfect? How easily can they get lost along the way? It's also the tale of the lady who loved and lost them. How important are our "things"? What do we choose to treasure?
Anyone who appreciates the beauty of Christmas ornaments, the history of antique pieces or a story that lets one travel back to the Victorian era where many of our best holiday traditions began will enjoy this fanciful tale.

Purchase the book

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bookish Gift Ideas: The Sweeper (A Buddhist Tale) by Rebecca Hazell - #Review

My thoughts
I firmly believe that children should learn about different cultures and religions. What better vehicle than through the reading of books? The Sweeper is an excellent introduction to the tenets of the Buddhist faith. I love how the practice of mindfulness is introduced so simply. How it can be incorporated in anyone's daily life. Even for people of a different faith, the practice of mindfulness would seem to be a helpful practice in every day life...for children too. I especially liked this simple prayer chant introduced in the book...

May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they enjoy the great happiness free from suffering.
May they dwell in the great balance 
that is free from craving, anger, and misunderstanding.

This is a prayer that would serve anyone well, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike.

I also must mention that this wonderful book is vividly illustrated by the author. The illustrations are very colorful and expressive. They greatly enhance the story. Children will be delighted by them.

I highly recommend this book. It would make a great gift and be a fine addition to any child's library.

About the book
SIZE: 8.25 X 10.75
ISBN: 9781611804386

Inspired by Buddhist tradition, this original story tells how Padme, a young servant girl, meets the Buddha as she is sweeping her master’s house. When she laments that she is so busy that she would never have time to meditate, the Buddha gives her the instruction to “sweep and clean.” This simple mindfulness practice transforms Padme’s life, and when she encounters the Buddha many years later, he teaches her how to send compassion out to others. This beautifully illustrated picture book is a wonderful way to introduce children to the power of mindfulness meditation practice.

Available for purchase at

About the author
Rebecca Hazell is an award-winning artist, author, and educator. She has published four nonfiction children’s books and created best-selling educational filmstrips and educational craft kits for children. She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honors BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history. Her books include The Barefoot Book of Heroic Children, Women Writers, and several self-published fantasy novels. Her website is

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Kicking off Sharing the Joy 2017 #Christmas

I can't believe how late I am this year! Already telling how busy my Christmas season is going to be. I need to remind myself to slow down and enjoy what Christmas really means to me and my family. These posts will help me to do just that.

I hope you will join me in celebrating the season. As usual, I will be sharing Weekend Baking, Weekend Lit, Weekend Crafting...maybe even Friday Baking and Movies. Also, book reviews and other bookish posts...and Christmas Around the World posts. Gift ideas. Just all around festive cheer for my favorite time of year (I rhymed)!

If you're looking for some ideas for new Christmas music this year, my friend Ken with The Sounds of Christmas was my guest in October and he shared all the new music coming out this year. You can read the post here. Don't forget to stop over and give The Sounds of Christmas a listen. Just click on their logo in the right sidebar.

If you didn't already know, the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge is going on again this year, through January 6th (Twelfth Night). You can sign up any time, even up until the last week of the challenge. Why not join us?

That's it for now. Looking forward to sharing the joy with you again this season!

Always in spirit...