Christmas in Lauzun: mulled wine, mince tarts, and madness

“Christmas in Lauzun is wonderful,” Ian told me before he and Sue left for their road trip. “There’s lights, festivities, carolling, and wine—lots of wine.”

I was in their chateau looking after their cat Friday while they road-tripped through Spain and Portugal. Ian and Sue were scheduled to return on December 17 and they had kindly offered to continue hosting me so I could experience a Christmas in Lauzun.

It started with a SSAFA evening in the nearby village of Castillonnès. Neighbours Martin and Tess sang in a local choral group, and asked if I’d like to join them for carolling, mulled wine, and mince tarts at the community hall.

SSAFA Christmas in Castionnes France2
Guests mingle and nibble on mince tarts at the SSAFA Christmas in Castionnes, France.

I learned that SSAFA stood for Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Families Association, a British organisation that fund-raises for British armed forces families in need. Apparently there were so many Brits retired in France that SSAFA expanded here, with 60 aid workers providing support throughout the country.

This evening’s affair was the village’s eleventh annual Christmas event. It was a full and beautifully-organized affair with musicians, a guest vocalist, Christmas songs in both English and French, and readings from the Bible.

SSAFA Christmas in Castionnes France
Pierre Sicaud, accompanied by Patrick Brugalieres on accordion and Stanley Hanks on keyboard at the SSAFA Christmas Carol Concert in Castionnes, France.

A few days later my Christmas turned “blue” when my computer’s failing hard drive presented me with the Blue Screen of Death. I had the name of a computer tech in the nearby village of Eymet so I packed the computer into my bike bag and cycled there to get it repaired.

It was market day, and Clementine oranges were ready for Christmas stockings.

Clementines at Thursday market in Eymet France
Clementines at the Thursday market in Eymet, France.

Later that day, Alan, Vera, and William picked me up to drive to the nearby village of Monteton. I had met Vera over Kir (a cassis and white wine apéritif) at the Café des Sports a few days earlier. When she asked if I’d like to join them for a Christmas church service including carolling, mulled wine, and mince tarts. I eagerly accepted.

Alan Vera William in Monteton, France
Alan, Vera, and William in Monteton, France.

The Monteton church perches on a hill top, so the views of the surrounding pastures, as well as the church’s silhouette, was stunning.

Church in Monteton, France
The church in Monteton, France.

Inside, I experienced my first Anglican Christmas service (I was brought up Roman Catholic). In the readings, I was very surprised to hear that Joseph chose not to “divorce” Mary when he learned that she was pregnant.

I also discovered that many of the carols I knew as a Canadian had different melodies and words here in Anglo-France. In “Come, All Ye Faithful,” for example, I was a little shocked to hear, “Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb!”

I had joined Carol Barkley’s beginners’ Pilates class soon after I arrived in Lauzun. It being Christmas, Carol emailed us to request that we dress festively, as there would be a little bubbly after class.

Carols pilates class in Lauzun France
Carol Barkley’s Pilates class in Lauzun France. Carol teaches three classes every Tuesday at the Salle Jules Ferry. Carol is second from the left, front row. I’m in black, with black antlers.

Fueled by the Christmas spirit, Ros and I headed to the Cafe des Sport for an early-afternoon Kir Royal (a cassis and champagne apéritif) and greeted Lauzun councillor Jean-Paul who was painstakingly decorating street Christmas trees with styrofoam ornaments.

Jean-Paul Christmas tree in Lauzun France
Jean-Paul ties light styrofoam ornaments to a Christmas tree attached to a lamp post in Lauzun, France.

The next evening, Martin and Tess asked if I’d like to join them for a Catholic service with carolling and mulled wine at the church back in Eymet. They cautioned that I’d need to find a ride as they’d be going over early, and so Alan and his neighbour Jan stepped forward, on the condition that we’d skip the mass.

Christmas carolling in Eymet France
Christmas carolling in the bastide square in Eymet, France.

It was a good crowd, mostly British (someone told me almost 40 percent of Eymet’s population was from the UK), and I was again mortified to hear that Christ abhorred not the Virgin’s womb. I did not see any mince tarts, but I did notice that Le Pub Gambetta across the square offered a café et mince tarte for 5 Euros.

I found myself wondering what French people do for Christmas here in France. Someone heard that they ate oysters and drank champagne. Someone else said they don’t sing songs. I wondered if I’d find out.

Ian and Sue arrived back from their road trip on December 17.

Ian and Sue Renault Kangoo in Lauzun, France.
Ian and Sue with their fully-packed Renault Kangoo in Lauzun, France.

A few days later Paula set herself up in Sue’s kitchen to cut and colour our hair. It turned out to be a riotous event, with Maggie showing up to wash her hair with dish soap in the kitchen sink, and then Sandy lugging a frozen turkey.

Paula haircut in Lauzun France
Paula colours my hair in Sue and Ian’s kitchen. Paula told me she’s been doing hair for more than 25 years and loves coming to peoples’ homes. Lauzun, France.

Sandy said she didn’t need a haircut, but she did need somewhere to store a turkey. While Paula worked away, Sandy and Sue struggled to fit the turkey in the drawer of Sue’s compact freezer. The turkey won: Sandy made a phone call to Ros who agreed to store it in her freezer so long as everyone remembered it was there.

The turkey was in fact Maggie’s. A former caterer, Maggie would be hosting Christmas feast this year, and this turkey would be feeding 16 friends and neighbours for a multi-course, sit-down dinner accompanied by Champagne.

In preparation, Sue, Ian, and I cycled to Issigeac to shop at their Saturday market. The village has existed since Roman times, and the market for almost that long.

Sue + Ian Sunday market in Issigeac France
Sue and Ian at the Sunday market in Issigeac, France.

Sue bought seasonal root vegetables for the Christmas dinner: potatoes, carrots, and swedes (rutabagas) the size of babies’ heads—at about 6 LB each.

Sunday market in Issigeac France
Sunday market in Issigeac, France.

Christmas eve, Sue cooked up a traditional French-Canadian dish, tourtière, which we enjoyed with Champagne, of course. The next day, all 16 of us assembled at Maggie’s place for a feast of turkey, vegetables (eight of them, when I last counted), wine, Champagne, mince tarts, plum pudding, and various liquors.

Festive dinner at Maggie's in Lauzun, France.
Festive dinner at Maggie’s kitchen in Lauzun, France. This photo is from a previous meal of just 8 people–our Christmas dinner involved a beautifully-set table for 16 people.
Maggie Morton Lauzun Dec2015
Maggie stirs a custard sauce for a festive meal. Maggie was one of the first Lauzunaises to locate to this part of France with her husband Barry (photo behind her) more than 30 years ago.

Christmas dinner was a beautiful time for me as a visitor. I was surrounded by lovely, lively people who I’d met over the past two months and who had welcomed me into their lives. I felt very grateful to be there.

The village of Lauzun was quiet for the next few days as everyone took time to connect with their families—over a meal or over Skype. I was away from my home of Vancouver, Canada, and yet I felt very much at home—fed, comforted, included, and accepted.

On the main street of the tiny French village of Lauzun, all was calm, all was bright.

Christmas lights in Lauzun France
Christmas lights on the main street of Lauzun, France.
Christmas street lights in Lauzun France
Christmas street lights on the main street of Lauzun, France.

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Writer, rider, traveller.

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