Friday, 30 November 2012

My French Christmas, at the 'Old Cognac Farm' in south west France. A festive full nest!

It's almost Christmas again in my empty nest, time to deck the twigs with sprigs of holly and illuminate the darkest corners with coloured fairy lights. Very soon the Christmas tree will twinkle in the corner, its sparkly baubles no longer rearranged by tiny hands, mean it will remain perfection. Taking the fairy from her box and dusting off her feathery wings, I am reminded of Christmas at the old Cognac farm in south west France, where, from the top of her tree, this pretty little fairy presided over the most magical Christmas I can remember....

In the huge oak-beamed kitchen, silence sits softly everywhere, interrupted occasionally by the crackle of logs from the wood burning stove.  Through windows, set into the thick stone walls, shafts of late winter sunshine slant across the room, illuminating tiny particles of dust, causing them to dance on an imaginary stage.  Outside, two grand palm trees, flanking the fan-lit front door, stand petrified in the still icy air, their green leaves edged in white lace crystals, hang motionless in the frozen landscape.

Inside in the grand sitting room, I place the fairy on top of the tree.  My Dad has already arrived and, later this afternoon, seven more will make up our Christmas party, as my two children bring along their partners and three of my son's future in-laws.  We need not worry, however, as the old Cognac farm with its two guest cottages, can accommodate us all, with room to spare. You may remember this beautiful place at the 'edge of the world', from my earlier blog post, 'Nesting in an Old Cognac Farm', when I explained my husband and I are house sitting here for the winter.

Just as dusk begins to fall and the room is lit only by huge logs burning on the open fire and the lights of the Christmas tree reflected on the glass of the windows, the sound of cars outside announce the arrival of our guests and the beginning of Christmas.  In the lamplight cries of "Happy Christmas!" fill the air and amidst a sea of hugs and kisses, we whisk our guests in from the cold to the warmth of kitchen beyond. There are nine of us in total and my heart leaps for joy, as my nest fills up for the festive season.

Christmas Eve night is spent around the open fire, as we get to know Richard's future mother and father-in-law and brother-in-law John.  We have only met once before, but they are the most lovely of guests and soon we are all one big happy family. Conversation dwindling as the evening draws on, we join in carol singing and, looking around the room, faces lit by the amber glow of the fire reflect what Christmas is all about, while from the top of the tree the little fairy seems to nod in agreement.

At eleven thirty, everyone wraps up in layers of warm clothes and stepping out into the night air, we set off for midnight mass under a galaxy of twinkling stars.  In the nearby village of Petit-Villefranche, the church bell rings out for Christmas and the open doors invite us in to the warmth of the candle-lit interior.  Side by side with our French neighbours, we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and, as the service comes to a close, disappear back into the cold night air, the cries of 'Joyeux Noel' still ringing in our ears.

Christmas morning finds us gathered around the huge kitchen table, the smell of hot coffee filling the air, as we enjoy a hearty breakfast. Outside a winter wonderland beckons and, those brave enough, don their warm tracksuits and gather in front of the house for a run to the 'edge of the world', before returning to open our presents.  In the garden, the ground beneath our feet is rock hard and covered in a thick white frost. All around, the air hangs in a heavy white mist over the fields. Trees, their branches covered in white ice crystals, need no festive decoration; nature alone has worked her magic, while all around, nothing moves.  Only the sound of our breathing fills the air, as clouds of warm breath follow us up the hill to the 'edge of the world'.

Murphy, my little dog and I reach the edge first, where the land drops away on every side to the valley below and a stark cross marks the old pilgrim route of  'St Jacques de Compostelle'.  Soon  all gathered at the top, our visitors gasp at the scene opening out below them.  The white mist hangs over the valley, and, as if above the clouds, we look down on the frozen landscape, from where we stand on 'the edge of the world'!

Back at the house, the smell of cooking is already emanating from the kitchen, where my daughter's French partner is in charge of 'la cuisine', while around the log fire we disappear under a sea of wrapping paper amidst whoops of joy.

Christmas day finally reaches its climax around the dinner table, where we are treated to festive fare with a distinctly French twist! The turkey cooked in red wine and herbs is the best we have ever tasted and from my place at the table with my husband, children and my growing family all around me, I soak up the magic of Christmas at 'the old Cognac farm' and, the joy of a full nest once again.

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