The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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Today marks the beginning of Calendale in Provence, the Christmas festive period that runs from 4th December to Chandeleur on 2nd February.  Christmas celebrations last almost two months here, aren't we lucky?  But I don't mean cheesy piped music in shopping centres and Santa's grottoes or even pretty sparkly lights, I mean traditional stuff, with a history, and this makes me feel I can officially start getting into the festive spirit.  I feel justified that I'm not just pandering to the rampant commercial circus that Christmas has become in many parts of the world but celebrating something more significant that doesn't revolve around spending money. The word Calendale comes from the Provençal word Calèndo meaning Christmas and today is the feast day of Saint Barbe (St Barbara).

Blé de Ste Barbe Calendale décembre Provence

So how is Ste-Barbe celebrated?  By planting wheat or lentils in little saucers on a bed of cotton wool. This symbolises the future harvest so if the wheat grows straight and green by the 25th, the coming year will be a prosperous one.  If it flops or turns yellow things aren't looking so good! There's a saying in Provençal "quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn" when the wheat grows well, everything goes well.  The germinated wheat is then tied up with a red ribbon and used to decorate the table for the Gros Souper on Christmas Eve.

This will be our sixth Christmas in Provence and every year my boys have come out of school bearing saucers of healthy-looking lentil shoots on the last day of school term.  I must admit to having no idea at all what they were for the first time round, having cress sandwiches in mind rather than seasonal celebrations but I'm more culturally aware now.  I hope this year's crop is upright and healthy and that our good fortune continues, and with that in mind I think I'll go and put on some cheesy Christmas music to celebrate the start of Calendale!

***UPDATE 2015*** We are now about to celebrate our 9th Christmas in Provence and all is stilll well!  Do you have any unusual traditions relating to the start of the festive season where you are? Please share them in the comments.


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Christmas traditions in Provence Ste Barbe



A Green and Rosie Life


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What is "Lou Messugo"?

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Lou Messugo cistes cotonneux messugueLou Messugo is the name of our home. We built our house in an area with limited street names and no street numbers at all so we wanted it to have a name, an identity. We built knowing we were going to run a gîte, all the more important to have a name. 

 We wanted to be different, to be unique. Around here there are plenty of houses called “Mas…”, “Bastide…” and “Villa…” None of these suited our house. Both Mas and Bastide mean country house/provencal farmhouse and imply large properties. Our house is somewhat in the bastide style but we felt it wasn’t a real bastide nor was it a villa. Again the connotations didn’t fit what we had in mind. We briefly toyed with “Maison” as in “La Maison Orange” but this lacked imagination. Then we hit upon the idea of using the local language Provençal.

cistus“Lou” means “the”, it’s the Provençal for “le”. There are plenty of examples of this in local house or business names: Lou Fassum (a delicious local Michelin starred restaurant), Lou Cigalou (a common restaurant and gîte name meaning cicada), and most common of all Lou Paradou meaning Paradise. We liked the “ou” sound of these names and decided we needed an original word that had some relevance to our home with a little bit of “ooo”, so we started looking for a noun we could add to “lou”. When doing some research into the local area, I came across a description of the forest around our land where a type of Cistus flowered wild. We had noticed this plant growing on our plot and loved it. It is most abundant in pink but also more rarely in white. The article referred to the “Messugues” and then used the Provençal word “Messugo”. This was our “eureka” moment! We loved the sound of the word, the flowers grew naturally on our land and we’d found a unique name.

However, all my research suggested it should actually be “lei Messugo” not “lou”. This would not do at all as “lou” was an integral and desired part of the name. So we may have cheated a little and created a truly original name, our very own bastardised version of the local word for a beautiful flower, but hey, I’m paying for it in a very small way. What I hadn’t counted on was being addressed as “Dear Lou” in email enquiries! I think it just makes a better story.


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