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December has arrived. Despite the trials of this challenging year, the seasons have rolled on. Mother Nature has shed her autumn gown of burnt umber and crimson and even in Provence she is readying herself to be draped in a mantle of white. Once again Christmas is upon us.

As the year winds to a close, it is easy to become nostalgic. Just as Charles Dickens’ beloved seasonal story A Christmas Carol reflects on the traditions and customs of Christmas past, many of us are wondering how it will be this Christmas, perhaps pondering Christmases yet to come…

CHRISTMAS PAST

On previous years I’ve spent the advent season in Provence where the cobbled streets have been festooned with twinkling lights and greenery.

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The shops everywhere, and especially in my fairy tale village of Lourmarin, displayed a myriad of temptations. All sorts of enticements thoughtfully displayed to entice us.

Christmas Shopping in Lourmarin

I can’t be in Lourmarin this Christmas but here are some of my favourite shops where I’d be browsing for gifts.

La Maison Franc: 16 Rue Henri de Savornin, 84160 Lourmarin

Specializing in stunning handmade Lavender wands (coeur de lavande) and lavender boules to hang on the boughs of your Christmas tree. A truly unique and special gift interwoven with sumptuous ribbons exuding the evocative fragrance of Provence. La Maison FRANC ships all over the world!

KOT: Rue de la Juiverie, 84160 Lourmarin

Gorgeous hand-dyed linen clothing & gifts

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Mizso: 1 Rue du Temple, 84160 Lourmarin

Valerie’s lovely handmade jewellery

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L’Apothicare de Lourmarin: 6 Rue Henri de Savornin, 84160 Lourmarin

Fabulous household gifts, soaps and candles

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Souleo de Provence:  14 Rue Henri de Savornin, 84160 Lourmarin

I love this pottery! With another location in the stunning perched village of Gordes, the Lourmarin shop opened recently having sometimes been in the Lourmarin market. They are also available online albeit for a tad bit more.

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Isirdi Gallery: 4 Rue Henri de Savornin, 84160 Lourmarin

Choose from Gérard Isirdi’s incredible art whose iconic scenes of village life and the Luberon are admired across the world. A wonderful gift also available to be ordered online. Isirdi has even painted us into a scene!

He recently designed a wine label to help raise awareness about PANDAS, the terrible illness which cruelly stole the daughter of our mutual friends.

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La Colline: Avenue Philippe de Girard 84160 Lourmarin

Wonderful treasures and gifts for the home

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Gris Piedra: 5 Avenue Philippe de Girard 84160 Lourmarin

Beautiful handmade jewellery and clothing. Looking a little different here in the summer.

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Boutique Alexine: 23 Rue du Temple, 84160, Lourmarin

Special gifts for the home

Au Fin du Lin La Boutique: 23 Rue du Temple, 84160 Lourmarin

Beautiful handstitched linen, towels and soaps

Christmas Markets

Previously at this time of year I have enjoyed visiting the local Christmas markets. Each weekend near Lourmarin tiny villages host Marchés de Noël in local schools, town halls and  wineries. Like many European cities, wooden chalets straight from a German Christmas story pepper many of the city’s streets. One of my favourites is in Aix-en-Provence where the Cours Mirabeau is lined with festive wooden chalets. I hope they will be this year too.

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Calissons D’Aix

Calissons d’Aix would be one of the things I’d be buying at the Aix Christmas Market, although they’re for sale in other locations across the region including local supermarkets. Made from an ancestral recipe, they are a local specialty, a très délicieux mixture of finely ground almonds, melon de Provence, candied orange peel, on a wafer bed covered with icing, yum!

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Santons

Santons are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines and a charming part of Christmas in Provence. They were first created during the French Revolution by Jean-Louis Lagnel, an artisan from Marseille. A Provençal crèche scene would traditionally have about 50 santons, depicting different characters from the region.

Families today set up their crèche scenes often displaying santons handed down through the generations; lavish public displays are normally on show in churches and town halls. If you’d like to purchase your own santons they can be found for sale at Christmas markets, antique shops and other gift shops. Surely not even a global pandemic can prevent the santons from making an appearance this Christmas.

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The 13 Desserts of Christmas 

The Provençal 13 desserts of Christmas are an age-old custom thought to have represented Jesus and the 12 apostles and eaten after Gros Souper, the equivalent of Christmas dinner. The 13 deserts normally include a fougasse (an olive oil flatbread), a pompe à l’huile (olive oil brioche), a platter of fresh fruit, a fig stuffed with walnuts, dates and white nougat. Not all are homemade and if you buy them, they’ll be beautifully presented and wrapped.

Different regions offer their own variations, but everywhere has the bûche de Noël!

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CHRISTMAS PRESENT

I’m not quite sure how Christmas will be in Provence, or indeed anywhere, this year. Most of us will be preparing differently, shopping online, maybe missing the excited bustle of crowded shops. Christmas markets might be a rarity. Sadly, many people will not be able to gather with family and friends and for some, because of this tragic pandemic, it will be the first Christmas without someone they love.

A gift book about Provence

This Christmas, when we’re unable to travel, one thing we can all do is to curl up and immerse ourselves in a story or good book set somewhere we love.

Here are some ideas for books set in Provence:

One Sip at a Time and Are We French Yet by Keith-Van-Sickle who lives near me in California. (Read my review here.) They are full of wit and charm.

Patricia Sands’ delightful series set in Antibes and the Luberon encapsulate the very essence of the region. The First Noel at Villa Violettes even allows you to experience a family Christmas in Provence.

Deborah Lawrenson has written two captivating mysteries set in Provence: The Sea Garden and The Lantern.

For a more extensive list, Rent Our Home has put together a wonderful selection of both fiction and coffee table books covering art, history and viticulture.

CHRISTMAS YET TO COME

I’m optimistic that before next Christmas, life will have returned to something close to normal and we will be able to celebrate Christmas as we normally do. Hopefully we’ll be able to travel again, perhaps to Provence, maybe even spending Christmas there. As I’ve said before: “This too will pass.” And remember, despite all the challenges we currently face, at this time of year, there’s magic in the air, and good things happen to all those who truly believe. Happy Christmas wherever you are.

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