Not Christmas yet….

Everyone knows I’m a Christmas Refuser.  Oh, I enjoy Christmas alright.  I made our cake weeks ago, and Malcolm and I regularly ‘feed’ it with doses of brandy to make sure it’s good and sozzled.  I’ll happily rehearse Christmas music at choir too.

But that’s about it.  I do an about turn in any shop belting out Christmas Muzac and leave immediately.  I haven’t bought a single card or present, nor shall I until …. oh…. about the end of next week .  Then it’ll all get done in a flurry of cheerful activity, and I’ll enjoy it, because I haven’t been thinking about it since September.

Then the other day, I came across this six-years-old blog post, written in France.  Simpler times, simpler customs.  I wonder how often the window displays I wrote about here are seen these days? Innocent pleasures….

December 9th, 2012

Christmas on the High Street

Verzeille&decoDec2012 033It was 5 years ago when we were first in Laroque round about Christmas time.  There were no signs of its coming until well into December, and we thought it wonderful: no decorations, no adverts, merchandise or muzak,  just a bustle of festive activity from about two or three weeks beforehand.

The first signs, as in England, were in the shops.  Unlike England however, most shopkeepers didn’t usually buy tinsel, baubles, and several packs of cotton wool to introduce a Christmas theme into their window display.  Instead they had a seasonal design applied directly to the window.  We once saw a scene-painter busily decorating a local window, and wondered what he did the rest of the year.  Shops in small town high streets like Laroque’s would all be unified by being the same but different.  The same folksy interpretations of Christmas motifs, the same limited palettes of white, red, greens and yellows.  Some would choose scenes of reindeer amongst the Christmas tree forests, others Father Christmas,  snowmen, or radiant candles.

Garage in Laroque

Five years on, hardly any shopkeepers are keeping up this tradition.  They’re decorating their shops, but in their own way: dressing up their window display with baubles, snowflakes and Santa Claus figures.  They’re nicely done too, but I miss the particularly French idea, which I’ve seen nowhere else.

Here are the few traditional window scenes I’ve been able to find this year.  Maybe next year even these will be part of the past.

A baker’s shop in Laroque.

Ragtag Tuesday: Toussaint – the Day of the Dead

No, I’m not talking about the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that life-affirming joyous celebration of life that happens in Mexico at this time of year.

I’m remembering our life in France.  I’m remembering how, from early October and for the rest of the month, shops and markets would be crammed with pots and pots of chrysanthemums.  It’s hard to know where they could all have been grown.  Or how they could all find buyers.  The Hard Discount supermarkets would sell them for a euro or two, while high-end florists expected a great deal more.

On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, all these chrysanthemums – white, russet, yellow, mauve, crimson – would suddenly appear in the cemeteries, jostled and packed onto family tombs .  And those cemeteries weren’t just crowded with plants.  Family groups make it their business to visit their deceased relatives in the season of Toussaint.  The day itself is a public holiday, and so those family members who’ve died provide an excuse for a family get-together. Here’s a day when, out of respect, there’s no opportunity to air old grievances or argue over the family silver.

Foreign visitors can make a big mistake when coming to see their French friends at this time of year.  ‘There were such a lot of lovely chrysanthemums in the shops, I couldn’t resist buying a pot for you’.  It doesn’t go down well.  There’s only one place for these flowers once they’ve left the shop.  The graveyard.

What HAS happened to all my photos taken in France of Toussaint chrysanthemums in shops, markets, cemeteries?  Who knows?  I’ve had to rely on Unsplash, a brilliant collection of copyright-free photos, offered by the world’s photographers.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Dead’.

Happy Yorkshire Day!

I’ve got lots of readers with Yorkshire connections.  With addresses in Australia, southern France, London, Northumbria, Spain and East Sussex, among other places, I bet not one of them has celebrated Yorkshire Day.

Apparently it all began on August 1st 1975, in Beverley, as a protest movement against the local government re-organisation of 1974′

Who knew?  Not me.  Not anyone I know.  We all bumbled through life in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and though the early years of the twenty first century, blissfully unaware until about five years ago that we were supposed to be partying for Yorkshire.

Two Ripon shops take Yorkshire Day seriously.

Now Yorkshire cities take it in turn to host Yorkshire Day, and this year it is Ripon’s turn.  This meant a fairground in the Market Square, a procession with a band and civic dignitaries, a service in the cathedral, picnicking in the Park, and all manner of stalls in the town centre, mainly celebrating Yorkshire charities and institutions.

Such as The National Trust’s stall celebrating Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal.  I was there.  I was one of a small team encouraging mainly families to have fun.  A few punters dressed up as monks from the Abbey, or as fine Georgian ladies who might have enjoyed the Studley Royal Water Gardens.  Most children – boys and girls – got enthusiastic about using the kind of wool which was produced in abundance at Fountains Abbey to get stuck into simple weaving.  They chose their colours with care, threaded their shuttles, and wove, wove, wove.  They ended up with nothing more elaborate than a bookmark, but goodness, they treasured them, and handed them carefully to mums, grandads – anyone who would put them safely away till they arrived home.

And we all ate Wilfra Cakes.  That’s a sort of apple pie cooked with Wensleydale cheese, and a long-forgotten Ripon delicacy, produced thanks to the Workhouse Museum.

If we go back this evening, there are bands playing, and a big firework display.  Well, any excuse for a party in God’s Own Country.  Why not?

The Market Square at midday.

La fiesta de los Reyes: part two.

Today was why we came to Barcelona in early January. Emily’s partner’s family invited us to share in today’s traditional family gathering. How could we refuse?

We’ve just had the best of days, with about thirty members of Miquel’s wider family. We’ve muddled through in Spanish, in English, in French. We’ve watched with pride Emily’s integration into this loving and close family group.

Lots of eating, lots of drinking. Then everyone had to share in eating the traditional Three Kings cake, el roscón de Reyes. We’d all chucked five euros into the pot, and the person who found the little pottery king in their slice won the lot – all but five euros. Miquel won that, for finding a bean in his slice.

Then it was charades. Can you imagine? But this little detail made us laugh. If you need to indicate that the title you’re miming is in English, you drink from an imaginary cup of tea whilst crooking your little finger ….

A very good day has been had by all. Thank you, Miquel’s family, for making us so welcome.

La fiesta de los reyes

Did Father Christmas come your way the other week? I hope so. 

But this year we’ve come to try to spot another team bearing gifts. We’re in Barcelona, where tonight children are waiting eagerly for their Christmas presents from – the Three Kings.

It was at Epiphany that the Magi visited the infant Christ, and at Epiphany that they continue the tradition by bringing gifts to all Spanish and Hispanic children.

We’ve already spotted them. Here they are, slowly winding their way through the crowded streets of Barcelona with their accompanying queens, elves, African drummers and jungle creatures. My phone hasn’t made a good job of recording their visit. I hope my camera will have done better.

 

Le Tour de Yorkshire. Allez! Allez! Allez! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Le Tour on the Big Screen.

Three years ago, Yorkshire hosted the start of the Tour de France, which I wrote about here, here, and here.

Three years ago, plans were hatched for an annual Tour de Yorkshire.

This year, le Tour once again passed the end of our drive.

We watched the Women’s Race from the end of our road, and had a happy low key morning chatting to neighbours we knew, and neighbours we hadn’t previously met.  Police motorbikes sped past, support vehicles, a helicopter above, then the riders themselves, followed by more support vehicles, more police, and finally, a couple of women riders who were never going to make it into the winning cohort, but were giving it their best shot anyway .

Women riders zooming through North Stainley.

During the afternoon though, I sauntered into West Tanfield to watch the Men’s Race.  I arrived to find a party atmosphere.  There, amongst all the stalls on the village field, was the Big Screen showing the progress of the Tour in real time.  Just look though.  Just as in ze Tour de Fraunce, everysing eez in Frainch.  ‘Tour de Yorkshire’,  ‘Le Côte de Lofthouse’, ’29 avril 2017′.  It’s a sweet little homage to the Tour de France, without which …..

The Big Screen explains all, in French.

I’d missed the caravan giving out freebies.  A friend told me that in Health and Safety conscious England, these aren’t chucked randomly out of publicity vehicles.  Instead the vehicles stop, and small teams amble among the crowds, giving out flags, batons, shopping bags.  She said it was rather nice and added to the party atmosphere.

Spectators with their freebie shopping bags.

A hot air balloon was moored near the pub.  We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.

The securely tethered hot air ballon.

As the Big Screen informed us the riders had reached Masham, we started to line the streets.  Volunteer Tour Makers shooed us onto the pavements, and we waited ….  First of all, police motor bikes.  Then this vehicle, complete with Man with Microphone.  ‘Allez, allez allez’, he yelled. ‘Oi!  Oi! Oi!’, we yelled back.  ‘Allez,  allez,  allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi!  Oi!’. ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’, ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’ ‘Allez, allez, allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’

Cheerleader’s vehicle.

Then this, the moment we’d been building up to.

They were gone.  More support vehicles, and a final one telling us it was over.

Support vehicles came from all over France, from Belgium, from the Netherlands, from Italy …. and from the UK.

We all wandered off, perhaps to check out the big screen showing the riders going through Ripon.  As I left the village, the dustbin men were already clearing the streets.  The party was over.