Celebrating Christmas in France – in Collioure where Father Christmas arrives on a zip wire between the chateau and the port of this beautiful Mediterranean fishing village in the south of France. Expat in France, artist Kirsten Macintosh muses on her family Christmas in her adopted country…
To my three year old I posed the question “what would you like Father Christmas to bring you this year?” With measured thought he responded. “A camel.” A quick mental inventory of presents already bought revealed nothing remotely camel-ine. I panicked. “Really?…..a CAMEL?”
“Oh alright then, a horse.”
The reason the camel is this year’s Buzz Lightyear (in our household at least) is that the gates have recently closed on Collioure’s annual Cour de Noël – a 10 day festival at the heart of which stands a live nativity scene. For a child, and for anyone, the whole event is wondrous. Winter fairies parade around on stilts, juggling glittering baubles and breathing fire into the cold night sky. Lights dart and dance and illuminate the ancient walls of the Château Royale. The maddening scent of warm crêpes and Christmas spices hangs heavy in the air. The locals indulge readily in the steaming vats of vin chaud and the sound of Christmas cheer filters long into the night. Children are invited to paw at farm animals and to ride donkeys, miniature ponies and camels. It was here my son’s heart was lost to our hump-backed friend.
The camel could easily be the product of a three-year-old imagination. With the teeth of Shane MacGowan and the topography of Nepal, to a three year old they are strangely beautiful. There were three in Collioure’s nativity scene, all looking slightly discomfited and more than a little pissed off. There was no sign of any Magi. I imagine the star had redirected them to the mulled wine tent and they had settled in to erode their wisdom somewhat.
I digress, but on hearing my son’s outlandish Christmas wish list I pushed him for any secondary (more realistic) options. He proceeded to suggest things he already has. I realised that in our little corner of France his limited exposure to the capitalistic slew of Christmas marketing meant he had no concept of materialism outside of what he already owned. Which is a rare, and frankly beautiful thing. Perhaps it will change but for now we can enjoy the pared down version of Christmas that Collioure offers. A lack of consumerist urgency affords us the time to fully appreciate the pure magic – and it is magic – of a Collioure Christmas. Just this week Père Noel dropped by to visit the schoolchildren. He arrived on a zip wire suspended between the château and the port. Last year he arrived by water-ski. The look of disbelief, of joy, on the children’s faces is worth far more than any material good.
And the camel? After much logistical consideration, I concluded that what we would save on water bills would be cancelled out by our outgoings on air freshener. I found a version that is far preferable in terms of both temperament and odour.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
Kirsten Mackintosh is from Scotland. She lives in Collioure with her husband , a winemaker and two children. She has an art studio and a very keen interest in food including a baking complusion/addiction. Kirsten’s website: www.ateliermackintosh.com