A bit of a cross-over week which started to blend one activity into another. Strange! It’s Christmas in Provence! Erica arrived! We packed for Switzerland and took off in an extremely laden VW Touran.

First the Goult ex-pats Carol service in the Goult Church. Always a great time is had by all singing a mixture of English and French carols – the only problem was that the organisers ‘lost’ the papers carrying the 7th lesson – after much scrabbling on the floor of the Church, it was dispensed with and we got on with the 8th lesson.

The Goult Church during the Carols Service

But not before, the sag of the Bird Cage had it’s happy ending. Erica had sent the instruction via email – go and purchase the Madame’s long-desired ancient bird cage; charge my credit card; arrange a ‘vendu’ sign on it; tell the lady that we will be picking it up when I arrive and it will be a BIG surprise!

Sadly, the store was closed on the day we were supposed to collect it all together so YT went off on a secret mission only to find that it would not fit into the Touran. No problem! In the stores ‘camion’ it went and off we sped back to Menerbes and the BIG surprise happened!

It’s in a temporary resting place, but we know a little girl who is very happy…..

Off to Switzerland – laden with wine, chapons, food and suitcases for the cold and snow. The Touran performed manfully until we  reached parts above Zug and into Oberaegerei when the icy conditions caused a few wheel spins but we made it! Shaken but not stirred. Fortunately, there has been quite a bit of rain and the Swiss have been their usual diligent selves in clearing the roads of ice and snow. Vicky has most kindly allowed us use of her amazing house in Oberaegeri – what a treat and such a privilege. The Schneebergers stragggled in from an extended stay in Zurich and the Christmas tree is up and lights blazing.

Oberaegeri in the early morning mist - taken from chez Fox

Madame, E and YT spent a day in Zurich to go and see the Swarovski Christmas tree in the Zurich Train station (Rail City). Having been told about it a mere 44 years ago, this was one excited little boy who finally saw the tree and it lived up to expectations! Zurich is a beautiful city and we treated ourselves to the Zurich Trolley Experience -a two hour trip around the city with commentary and a couple of stops. Great listening and tourist watching, the only pity is that the latter day Zurich City Fathers have not tipped their collective hats to the older architects and designers so modern and old buildings tend to wrestle with rather than complement each other.

The Swarovski Christmas tree in Rail City, Zurich

A close up of thousands of crystal ornaments

After the ride, a stroll down the main street, Bahnhofstrasse, is a great occasion drooling over the street food stalls and chocolate shops, seeing the Christmas decoration and the obligatory walks through the boot, shoe and clothing shops.

A plaque marking the spot from which Winston Churchill made his famous 'Arise Europe' speech in 1946. Perhaps, we need another Churchill?

The Guildhall and the balcony from which Churchill made his speech

In the literally hundreds of squares in Zurich, there are many stalls erected selling Christmas cheer

The jaw-droppng moment, when you see the tree for the first time

Now, this is a chocolate shop - Zurich!

Au bientot – Lovonne and Simon xx. To all our wonderful readers, family and friends (now over 7,500 of you!) may we wish you a Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year. xx

For those of us who are used to Christmas Carols blaring out of shopping centre speakers after the beginning of September, the attitude and customs of the Provençal people towards Christmas makes a refreshing change.

Until the first of December, there is no sign of Christmas. Decorations start to go up during the month and the first date of any significance is the feast of Saint-Barbe on 4th December. Here wheat seeds are sown in dishes, kept in the kitchen and then used to decorate the Christmas table.

How the seeds sprout determines how much fortune the family will have in the following 12 months. Proceeds of the sale of the seeds all go to charity.

The major festive meal is Le Gros Souper (the Great Supper) held before the celebration of Midnight Mass. Although originally a penitant’s meal, it’s name signifies exactly what it is: no meat or poultry; it will usually start with a salad dressed with anchovies, followed by the classic Provencal soup – Aigo Boulido (a thin garlic and herb broth); then a huge fish (probably loup [sea bass]) to be divided as the main course. Then, the meals conclusion! Les treize desserts (the 13 desserts!).

These desserts are not as overwhelming as they sound: reflecting the number attending the Last Supper the dishes of nuts, fruits, calissons (diamond shaped almond paste delicacies) and dates (a symbol of Christ who came from the Orient), nougat – white soft and creamy represents purity and goodness, the harder and brittle black nougat symbolising impurity and forces of evil; the “fougasse à l’huile d’olive”, also called “la pompe”: a flat loaf made using olive oil, quince cheese or crystallised fruit, “oreillettes”: light thin waffles, fresh fruit: mandarin oranges, oranges, pears, raisins and winter melons preserved for the occasion.

Let me assure you, there is no one hungry at Mass.

The other essential element of the Provençal Christmas is the creche or what we know as the Nativity scene.

Its origins lie in the banning of religion during the anti-clerical period after the French Revolution in 1789. Devout Provençal families (as usual, rebelling against Paris) created their own secret nativity scenes making figures of the Holy Family and the Magi from local terracotta.

Later, when religion became acceptable again, local craftsmen carried on the tradition and the famous santons were created. All over Provence, there are santon fairs at Christmas time (we’re going next week to Avignon) where locals add to their collections. The figurines come in three sizes to cater for the scale of your Nativity scene.

From all of us in Provence – new and old – Bon Fete!

Christmas Eve in Oberaegeri, Switzerland from Vicky's balcony. Photo: Lovonne Burrow

Just before we left on our Swiss expedition for Christmas, we had a dusting of snow in Menerbes.

Naturally, Madame got clicking:

Back patio at Bastide les Amis, Menerbes, Luberon, Provence

A slightly snowy Mexican Poppy

Snow dusts the second terrace at Bastide les Amis

Enough snow to whiten the ground, not enough to coat the house

The new 'mouse-house' attached to Bastide les Amis, Menerbes, Luberon,stands proud in the winter sunshine

A display of radishes at Lourmarin market, Luberon, Provence

The pool is open! Bastide les Amis, Luberon, Provence

Canola fields near Lourmarin, Luberon, Provence

The garden at Maison Olive, Bastide les Amis, Menerbes in the Luberon

Garden - Maison Olive, Bastide les Amis

Bastide les Amis, Menerbes, Luberon, Provence

Cherry blossoms in the Luberon Valley, Provence

Rose at Bastide lea Amis, Menerbes, Luberon, Provence

The days have lengthened considerably and even though it is much colder than a few weeks ago, we have – luckily – escaped the bitter cold and wet of the UK. As everything else in Provence, you are meandering on and then suddenly something happens – in this case, Christmas! The Christmas markets are announced and there are advertising flyers at every corner with soirees, concerts, special events and wineries throwing their doors open for some hot wine.

Will has made a surprise visit to us this week and we delighted in taking him to see the Christmas lights in Apt and buzzing around the Valley, ticking all the boxes for ‘the wedding’.

A display of vintage tractors in Apt complements the Christmas displays

Some real veterans here.

Beautiful flower shop display as you enter the Roman town of Apt Julia

Shops bustle in the early evening with the Roman tower in the background

All the plain tree are garlanded with lights

You can't escape the fact that it is Christmas time!

Meanwhile back at Bastide les Amis, the windows and shutters have finally arrived from the manufacturers and our builders, Jose and Nico are able to continue with their endeavours. Local character Gerard (who also goes by the name of Pomme) came along to plaster the weather cladding inside the room.

Waiting, waiting for the new windows...

Side view of the new structure

The 'mouse-house'

The master himself - Jose

Gerard (left) and Nicolas pose happily on the completion of the cladding - now for the plastering

Jose and Nicolas pause during the messy and skilful 'splattering' of the outside wall plaster

Wisteria in Lourmarin, Grand Luberon, Provence

Goats and sheep herd in the Silvergue area on the Apt plateau in Provence

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