Les Noëls Blancs or The White Christmases is our seasonal theme here in the usually snow-free town of Saintes, Charente-Maritime, Nouvelle Aquitaine, France.
Among the decorated fir trees, our festive Christmas Market is flying the flags of Denmark, Finnland, Norway and Sweden this year, being disguised as a Sami village from Lappland. The “Nördic Lounge” igloo bar which at night glows like northern lights across an arctic sky, welcomes you to Saintes with a glass of champagne!
From a biological point of view, this is a truly unique seasonal celebration!! For the first time, a polar bear shares a winter landscape with penguins. And I think, she looks a smidgen hungry 😋
And if you consider that the Charente river doesn’t normally support ice floes with or without penguins, you’ll be surprised at this scene in our 2016 Christmas pageant. I witnessed the installation of ice-floes just below our house in the afternoon of December 8th. Unfortunately I don’t know the artist’s name, who is seen here in his waders, anchoring his installation.
I am simply gobsmacked by this amazing community’s versatility and the care it takes in presenting a new and differently themed Christmas celebration for its citizens and guests. We are now enjoying our third winter season in small-town France and I have to say, we’re pretty impressed.
The 2014/15 season was the first Christmas under my beloved Gallo-Roman, 2000-year-old Arc de Germanicus. The following year [check the previous post, too!] I was blown away to realize that the entire scheme had changed, as it has again this year. In this town of only about 25 000 citizen, you’d expect the same old familiar decor and traditions – but not in Saintes! Thanks to our exceptional landscaping crew, each year proudly tops the next!
Sans doute, you’ve noticed that the title for the 2016 Christmas celebrations is phrased in plural form. This initial celebration of these White Christmases in Saintes invites young and old to explore the provinces of Northern Europe and discover the spirit of Scandinavia. But the members of the city council are already weighing their options for future editions of White Christmases in other, beautiful winter destinations to support multi-cultural sensitivity in the youth of our town. You can read all about the details for those « Les Noëls Blancs » and this year’s program of activities HERE. Les Tiglïngs that Mme Bertin mentioned in her blog post are a fun group of street artists. In their winter presentation, a group of elves from a make-believe land in the far, far North delights the children with songs and sketches. They have funny names like Öp or Oüm and their reindeer is called Tatave. This faithful character pulls the sleigh the elves stole from Santa Claus.
Invoking the Arctic Circle, apparently with a little bit of Antartica thrown in considering the penguins, allowed for the adaption of a variety of Northern traditions hitherto unknown around the Charente-Maritime. As, for example, ice skating on real ice using real skates. La “Patinoire”, the ice rink, is proving to be very popular! Don’t forget, gloves are mandatory 😁
…. our mayor threw the switch to illuminate Les Noëls Blancs for the very first time!
Everyone enjoyed their first visit to the magical village in the frozen North and celebrated till the nightly fog gently descended over the Christmas scene.
Sunday evening rang in with another new activity in these parts, the feast of St. Lucy, as she is called in English. Santa Lucia, an early martyr for her Christian faith in Rom of the forth century, became a beloved patron saint in Scandinavia. Especially in Sweden her feast day, December 13, is celebrated as the Feast of Light. Girls dress in white robes and wear crowns woven from lingonberry twigs. In these crowns the girls carry lit candles as they form processions singing carols for people.
Here in Saintes, children got together in one of our meeting halls and fashioned lanterns [more akin to German Sankt Martin’s lanterns than Swedish traditions, I think] and also put together their Santa Lucia costumes. Then all the children and their family formed a procession through Old Town, passing only one block over behind our house.
From there they continued across the pedestrian bridge to the right bank of the river and onto the Abbaye aux Dame for a “God Jul” bonfire.
Not only Place Bassompierre under the Arc de Germanicus is decked out in Christmas decorations, so is the whole center of town.
And from our windows we see the Christmas light sparkle all through the night, be it foggy or crystal clear.
With this post, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, a festive year-end season, a happy Hanukkah, or simply send you my best wishes. By the way, around Thanksgiving time I ordered two packages of Hanukkah candles from a Parisian mail order outfit, because I couldn’t find any in Saintes. Tracking services weren’t provided, no notice of order-shipped was ever received, so I had just about given up on our candles, when the package landed in our mailbox yesterday. Straight from Israel! No wonder it took so long!
Blue being the predominate Jewish color, I’ll leave you with a sleepy and blue Christmas scene from across the placid Charente river.