By Golden Keyes ParsonsMy first series, Darkness to Light, is based loosely on my ancestors and takes place in 17th century France. The Clavell family escaped the religious persecution under Louis XIV and eventually came to this country, settling in Pennsylvania. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Christmas customs which were being celebrated in 17th century France and how they have developed through the years.
In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles," which means "the good news" and refers to the gospel. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. In the morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys have been hung on the tree.
Nearly every French home at Christmastime displays a Nativity scene or creche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. The creche is often peopled with little clay figures called santons or "little saints." In addition to the usual Holy Family, shepherds, and Magi, the craftsmen also produce figures in the form of local dignitaries and characters. This came about because in the late 18th century the new revolutionary government outlawed religion. The traditional creche was forbidden. The creative French peasants came up with the solution of molding clay figures, dressed in the different occupations of the country and used in place of the traditional figures of the Christ Child, the wise men and the shepherds. The craftsmanship involved in creating the gaily colored santons is quite astounding and the molds have been passed from generation to generation since the 17th century.
The French also make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Nol, which means "Christmas Log." The cake, among other food in great abundance is served at the grand feast of the season, which is called le reveillon. Le reveillon is a very late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The menu for the meal varies according to regional culinary tradition. In Alsace, goose is the main course, in Burgundy it is turkey with chestnuts, and the Parisians feast upon oysters and pat de foie gras. Le Revellion may consist of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine.
My ancestors were from Southern France around Grenoble where the burning of the Yule Log was very popular. Families would burn yule logs continuously from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day and once the new year came, a part of this log was used to make the wedge for the plough as a good luck omen and plenty of harvest in the coming year.
I wish I had something from my ancestors Christmas celebrations, like a creche or some of the little clay figures, but if anyone in my family has any of those treasures, I have no knowledge of it. I am reminded to thank God for His faithfulness through the generations. Who knows where we would be if it were not for the faith of our forefathers? Blessings to all for a very Merry Christmas!
Golden Keyes Parsons writes historical fiction, and is also a popular retreat/conference speaker. Her highly acclaimed Darkness to Light Series (Thomas Nelson) chronicled the journey of her French Huguenot ancestors in 17th century France. Her fourth novel, His Steadfast Love, is a Civil War novel set in Texas. Her latest release is a compilation of four novellas (WhiteFire Publishing) – a biblical fiction series entitled Hidden Faces, Portraits of Nameless Women in the Gospels. Golden lives in Waco, TX, with her husband, Blaine, where they enjoy their children, grandchildren and are avid sports fans of their alma mater, Baylor University. You can contact her at www.goldenkeyesparsons.com.