It’s Christmas time.. the villages are decked with lights, stores are stocked with foie gras, chocolates and champagne, and everyone is in a merry mood. There is a buzz in the air amplified by concert carols and Christmas market activity
in almost every village. Yet, there is also a sense of calm and anticipation; none of the stressful, hectic commercialism that used to mark our holiday preparations. It is refreshing to say the least.
I like to think
that it is the tranquility of village life that makes this so. The folks decorate their homes without the full regalia of lights on roofs, windows and lawns. What you see, instead, are some swags of Christmas colors, the ever-present Pere
Noel attempting to climb windows and balconies and the colored lights, sometimes small Christmas trees , that the local mairie would set up along the Rues and common areas. It is very simple yet respectful of tradition and meaning.
Meantime, many villages hold Christmas markets designed to give ideas for gift giving. But these are mostly handicrafts, food baskets and wine. Amidst the many stalls, one can find food vans serving paella, sandwiches or second daughter’s
favorite roasted chestnuts. Oh, and the vin chaud to warm the body and spirit while wandering, perusing, buying.
Capestang had a fairly good size market in the Salle Polyvante one weekend and in wandering around, I met a Philippine
native selling Asian handicrafts. We strike a conversation, thrilled to speak my parent’s dialect with her while my daughters looked thoroughly confused. “Mom, was that Tagalog?” asked first daughter. I replied, “It’s
your grandparents dialect and no, it is not Tagalog. But you’ll hear that a lot of it when we celebrate your Aunt’s wedding this holiday season.” Meantime, my newly found compatriot and I exchanged phone numbers and promised to
stay in touch. As we were ready to leave, she thrusts one of the Thai silk shawls into my open purse and whispered, “Merry Christmas!”
One Saturday, we drove to Carcassonne to witness their version of
holiday fete. The usual artisans were plying their wares under marquee tents evoking traveling royalty. Wandering around were costumed actors ready for their scheduled re-enactments. We chanced upon a handsome trio buying kebabs (yes,
kebabs) and took a photo opportunity for remembrance. For lunch, we ventured to an almost empty bistro with a reasonably priced set menu. By the time our main dishes arrived, the place was full of visiting Spaniards. The mix of
Spanish and French resonated with us very well.
We wandered, on another weekend, in Narbonne where the cabin like stalls were lined up along the promenade. The usual arts and crafts, vin chaud, and food were on display and, on the
other side of the river, the rides and games to thrill the children. My girls were not interested in participating but enjoyed watching the little ones squeal and laugh with glee. We chanced upon a stall that had nothing to sell.. only to
give away. These were tourist information about Galicia in NW Spain. As we passed, I grab a brochure out of curiosity and it was about the French route for the Camino del Santiago Compostela. Is there a message here, perhaps?
As for our regular grocery shopping, they now included foie gras and chocolates. These products were attractively positioned at the entrances. They could not be missed. The range and number of
choices were confusing; thus, sales people stood around promoting their wares and enticing us with free tastings. Who could resist? I reasoned that the promos justified the number of purchases. And the upcoming trip will allow me to
share these treats with family and friends this holiday season.
The food and wine were not the only temptations. There were several concerts scheduled in the villages around us, including ours. But the evenings were
spent nesting at home, watching TV and preparing for our Asian trip. It was too comfortable to venture out. In our village, we did not need to. The music floated in the air towards our window which we kept partly open, despite the chill air,
to enjoy some of the melodies.
At other evenings, we entertained our friends with some home cooking and plenty of champagne and wine. The girls were at their element; preparing, serving and joining the conversations
while American carols played in the background. Music, food and friendship. What a perfect combination this holiday season.