Bonjour à Tous et à Toutes! Hello Everyone!
Sorry for a bit of a gap in blog postings. We have been busy moving into a new house. More about that later! In the meantime, here are some belated notes and images from the holiday season here in Carcassonne.
Each December, the town of Carcassonne transforms the Place Carnot, the central town square, into a holiday village with an ice skating rink and festive vendor chalets. The chalets offer holiday arts and crafts, including traditional Provençal figurines called santon. And they offer holiday food and wine. The food and wine stalls are always the best attended!
One day in mid December, we visited the local hardware store. Out in front of the store was this enclosure filled with attractive animals. We aren’t sure if this is a way to sell cute animals to unsuspecting parents, or a remembrance of the animals at the nativity.
Each holiday season, a group of British expatriates organizes a large holiday fair in the region between Carcassonne and Montpellier, called the Christmas Cracker Fair*. This year, the setting was the Abbaye de Valmagne near the village of Villeveyrac. The abbey was founded in 1138, and until the beginning of the 14th century, it was one of the richest Cistercian abbeys in the south of France. Its surrounding lands have been vineyards for more than 800 years. Today it is an officially recognized Historic Monument, and venue for events like the Christmas Cracker Fair. We found rows and rows of vendors of chocolates, jams, sweaters, ornaments, wine, jewelry, and all sorts of crafts. As gifts (including one box for ourselves), we bought some delicious chocolates made with wine: two of the best products of the region all in one.
(*We had to look up why a Christmas fair would be called Cracker Fair: Christmas crackers are a British tradition. They consist of a segmented cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper with a prize in the central chamber, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled apart by two people, each holding an outer chamber, causing the cracker to split unevenly and leaving one person holding the central chamber and prize. The split is accompanied by a mild bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically impregnated card strip, similar to that used in a cap gun.)
The holiday season in Carcassonne formally starts with the Marche aux Flambeaux, or the Parade of the Torches. In the evening, the crowd gathers in the medieval Cité above the town and receives torches to carry in the parade. The crowd (including us) slowly flows through the medieval streets, out the Aude gate which overlooks the Aude River, down the stone walks, across the Pont Vieux, and into the Bastide (the “new” town from the 13th century). From our vantage in the midst of the crowd, the flickering flames and the happy faces created a magical atmosphere. When I look at the photos afterwards, it looks like the angry townspeople on their way to Frankenstein’s castle. Really, it was magical and festive. Really.
While the skating rink and holiday chalets in the Place Carnot speak of holiday tradition, across town, the winter carnival is all about kids’ rides and sugary snacks. Even on a windy cold evening, the kids, teens and adults were happily riding, jumping, squealing and laughing. We rode the ferris wheel to enjoy the view of the carnival as well as of the Cité.
Carcassonne’s main shopping street and city gate in holiday garb.