It’s official: Christmas is coming to the Morvan. The Morvan? Think of the Yorkshire Dales, but with better roads and less hype. Nobody comes here for motorways, theatres, discos, shopping malls or even ubiquitous broad band. We are online thanks to a gizmo on our balcony which provides a microwave link to a base station in Corbigny, our nearest town. We are 20 miles from the nearest cinema, although movies are occasionally screened at the Centre Médico-Social in Corbigny, which also offers tap dancing classes, sewing bees, tax advice and the annual flu jabs.
In the UK the Christmas hype seems to start around Michaelmas.In the Morvan it doesn’t begin until after La Toussaint on 1 November, when everyone cleans the family graves and puts flowers on them. The shops are full of potted chrysanthemums and gaudy plastic floral tributes, and families travel long distances to pay their respects. Our cemetery in Cervon is a feast of colour for the Armistice ceremony on 11 November, when we process to the war memorial behind two old buffers with flags and enjoy a vin d’honneur afterwards. But I digress…
Christmas in the Morvan seems to have kept the good bits while rejecting the frantic commercialism, conspicuous consumption and competitive present-giving which have so little to do with the birth of Christ Jesus. You know Christmas is coming when the three wise men call. They arrive during Advent rather than at Epiphany, and come from Corbigny rather than from Persian Lands Afar, but they do bring gifts.
The postman – le facteur, the firemen – les pompiers – and the garbage collectors – les éboueurs – knock on every door to wish us well, to present a calendar and to solicit their Christmas tips. What happens if someone accepts a calendar and fails to reciprocate with the customary 10 euros? I prefer not to speculate. We have never needed the fire brigade, thank God, but we appreciate their calendar, which features group photos of the firefighters and shots of them in action. Our postman, Patrick, has done us proud for 9 years; and it would not do to get on the wrong side of les éboueurs.
Christmas cards? Fewer people bother than in the UK, and if they do they may well send New Year cards instead. The greetings cards in our local shops are expensive and unattractive, and there do not seem to be any charity cards as offered in the UK. Our friends admire our fine display of Christmas cards, although with email we receive fewer paper cards each year. I recycle them all and donate 20p per card to Combat Stress. In an ideal world I’d hawk them at the local markets, with my Combat Stress collecting box on display, but I lack the chutzpah!
We eagerly await the arrival of our monthly free magazine, the Criquet, which includes interesting articles in addition to advertising. Every issue carries book reviews, advice on surviving the newest version of Windows, articles on local history, a horoscope, health advice, tips for gardeners and fishermen, recipes, a crossword puzzle and much more. It also carries a wealth of advertising for Christmas goods, foods and festivities. The ads pay for the edit, but many of the Criquet ads are attractive and entertaining in their own right.
Le Criquet tells it all. Christmas concerts are everywhere. The grandest takes place in the church at Bazoches and costs 25 euros a head, but many are free for all. Christmas markets start in late November. Corbigny holds its 2014 Christmas market the second weekend in December, with street entertainers, music, gifts and delectable food and drink. Le Père Noël drives up and down the street in a pony cart, throwing sweets to the children. Who needs shopping malls, theatres and cinemas?
Here Christmas fare puts more emphasis on foie gras and oysters and less on turkey and sprouts than in the UK. Christmas pudding and mince pies were unheard of here until I introduced them in 2005 using the Guinness Christmas pudding recipe and my granny’s home made mincemeat. My dictionary translates mincemeat as mélange de fruits secs et d'épices qui sert de garniture à des tartelettes. When will le mincemeat be accepted by the Académie, the language police who have already blessed le hot dog? Hmm…. Both mincemeat and Christmas pud require shredded suet. If this is obtainable in the Morvan I have yet to find it, and I used to rely on kind visitors from the UK until I discovered the British Corner Shop.
They supply Atora suet, along with ready-made mincemeat, Christmas puds and cakes, Christmas crackers (which I have never seen here) and a bewildering range of other delights. As I type this piece, expats the world over are compiling their shopping lists…
The main Christmas blowout, le Réveillon, takes place late on Christmas Eve after church. Many restaurants advertise these shindigs in Le Criquet, with enticing menus and offputting prices, and local caterers deliver complete Réveillon menus for home celebrations.
Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday cottage which she runs in aid of Combat Stress. The holiday cottage, in their garden at Maré le Bas in the Morvan, has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk which has links to Combat Stress.
They are now taking bookings for 2015. Every penny goes to Combat Stress www.combatstress.org.uk