I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Resolutions in France…
Here in my tiny little hamlet in rural France, Christmas is generally a quiet affair. There are 142 people registered as living in my village – some of them are second home owners so realistically, there probably aren’t many more than 100 people in total. Many of them are farmers or agricultural workers of some sort and for them, Christmas doesn’t mean a long leisurely break. The animals still need feeding and watering and the cows need milking.
Christmas is a muted affair by some standards. The excitement of shopping in big towns and cities, the festive pop up winter wonderlands, funfairs and big wheels are not something you’ll see here in the Seven Valleys. It’s a gentler and sometimes whimsical approach I find (and coming from London that’s still a novelty that I love).
Every shop that you go into in the week before Christmas will involve being wished a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year by just about everyone you encounter.
After Christmas you will be wished a “Bonne Année” (Happy New Year) well into January, certainly into the third week, maybe later. New Year’s Eve is one night of the year when my village really celebrates – with a huge party in the salles des fêtes at the town hall which will go on late into the next day. My French friends and neighbours will be busy thinking of New Year’s resolutions – it seems to be de rigeur here in the village to have them and to share them.
Take my neighbour M-T for instance, she’s going to turn 87 this year. One of her New Year’s resolutions is to grow more vegetables than last year. This sprightly, bright and funny old lady grows all her own fruit and veg, keeps chickens, ducks and geese (and prepares them for the table). Every day she takes her wheelchair-bound “little brother” out for his daily constitutional. She calls him “little brother” on account of the fact that he’s younger than her – a mere 76. He certainly isn’t little though and I’m awed by her ability to wheel him up the rather steep hill where we live.
Monsieur and Madame J across the road say they have no New Year’s Resolutions to make – other than to keep on being as happy as they are. They are in their late 70’s and very much in love. Each morning Monsieur J departs for his allotment and toots his old 2CV car horn. This is the cue for Madame J to hang out of the lower window for a kiss. Each evening he returns at 5.00 pm and thumps out a sort of rendering of the Marseillaise on his car hooter. One of my neighbours says this is to give Madame J time to put on her make up and look sexy for the return of her husband!
Young Monsieur (I don’t know his name, it’s not customary in my part of France to share names on meeting – sometimes it takes months/years even!) says he will be finishing the landscaping of his garden. This young French man has built a house from scratch and the whole village has been watching him for the past three years as the walls went up, the roof went on and the windows went in. Built on the site of a ramshackle wooden barn in some overgrown land, he has created a big manoir style house in his spare time – for the love of his fiancée.
You’d think when you come to my village that it was a very ordinary place, dull even. Not much seems to go on; there are no shops, bars or restaurants. It is very rural – there are certainly many times more cows than people.
But… quietly lurking in the background where it isn’t remotely obvious, people are living extraordinary lives in their own way.
A bientôt and a very Happy New Year to you,