Transcript for Episode 473: Père Noël and the Wooden Shoes

Category: Christmas in France

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, listeners!

[00:00:18] Because episode 473 of the podcast is getting released on Christmas Eve, I decided to do something special and tell you a Christmas story that explains why there are no Christmas stockings in France. I’ll also talk about the tradition of the 12 desserts in France.

The Legend of Père Noël and the Wooden Shoes

[00:00:37] Annie Sargent: The Legend of Père Noël and the Wooden Shoes. In a small French village nestled in the picturesque countryside of Provence, there lived a kindhearted cobbler named Antoine.

[00:00:59] Antoine was known throughout the village for his exceptional craftsmanship, especially when it came to creating wooden shoes, or sabots as they are called in French.

[00:01:09] One cold December evening, as the snowflakes began to gently fall,

[00:01:14] Antoine noticed a poor ragged traveler seeking shelter from the winter chill. His heart filled with compassion and he invited the weary traveler into his humble workshop.

[00:01:25] Antoine offered the stranger a warm meal and a place by the cozy fire.

[00:01:30] As the traveler shared tales of his long journey and the hardships he had endured, Antoine listened attentively. The man revealed that he was none other than Père Noël, the French counterpart of Santa Claus, who brought gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

[00:01:46] Moved by the traveller’s story, Antoine decided to do something special for Père Noël.

[00:01:51] He crafted a beautiful pair of wooden shoes, beautifully decorated with colorful patterns and a tiny bell on each toe. He presented the shoes to Père Noël as a gift to help him on his long night of gift giving.

[00:02:06] Touched by Antoine’s kindness, Père Noël was filled with gratitude.

[00:02:11] He left a cobbler’s workshop that night promising to return with gifts for Antoine’s family.

[00:02:16] True to his word, Père Noël came back on Christmas Eve, leaving presents for Antoine’s children and a note expressing how grateful he was.

[00:02:25] From that day forward the village embraced the tradition of leaving wooden shoes by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that Père Noël would visit and fill them with small gifts and sweets.

[00:02:38] The sound of bells ringing softly from the shoes became a cherished part of the holiday season, reminding everyone of the kind cobbler and his act of generosity.

The origins of the story

[00:02:49] Annie Sargent: The legend of Père Noël and the wooden shoes is a folktale that comes from Provence, or perhaps the north of France, or perhaps Toulouse, we don’t know.

[00:02:58] While it may not have a single definite origin, it draws upon the rich cultural heritage of these regions, blending elements of folklore and Christian traditions.

[00:03:09] Wooden shoes, or sabots, were commonly worn by peasants and farmers everywhere in France and in much of Europe. They were practical footwear for working in the countryside.

[00:03:20] Père Noël is the French equivalent of Santa Claus or Father Christmas. He is traditionally depicted as a bearded, robed figure who delivers gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Père Noël’s character and customs vary across different regions of France, but he embodies the spirit of generosity and gift giving during the holiday season.

[00:03:43] The story emphasizes the importance of acts of kindness and hospitality, values deeply ingrained in French culture as many other cultures. It reflects the tradition of welcoming strangers and providing warmth and comfort during the cold winter months, particularly in rural communities.

[00:04:01] Like many folktales, the story likely originated as an oral tradition passed down through generations. It was retold and adapted over time to reflect cultural differences and values of the communities where it was shared.

Les 13 Desserts de Provence

[00:04:20] Annie Sargent: But, you thought Christmas was all about the food in France, right?

[00:04:24] Yes, food plays a vital role in French Christmas traditions. The tradition of the 13 desserts is a Christmas custom in Provence, a region, of course, in the south of France.

[00:04:36] These desserts are served after the main Christmas meal known as Le Gros Soupé, and they symbolize Jesus and his 12 apostles. The tradition is rooted in Catholic traditions, but has become a cherished cultural practice in the region.

[00:04:52] Here are some typical desserts that can be included in the 13 Desserts of Provence.

[00:04:58] Number one is Pompe à huile, or pompe de Noël. It’s a bit like a brioche, but made with olive oil rather than butter, so it tastes a little different.

[00:05:08] Calissons, they are almond candies from Aix-en-Provence, of course.

[00:05:13] Number three is Nougat Noir et Blanc, so it’s a black and white nougat, but it can also be just the white nougat,

[00:05:21] and this can be the hard nougat, the soft nougat, the Spanish kind, which they call Turon, the kind that you get in southern France. Le Nougat de Montélimar is a big one. Some sort of nougat is always included.

[00:05:36] Then a series of dried fruits, candied fruits. So you can have dried grapes, which we call Raisins Secs in French, dried figs, Figues Séchées.

[00:05:47] Dattes. Dates are usually a part of the celebration, they are often stuffed with marzipan, and to me that’s an evil arrangement that trips me on a regular basis because I don’t like marzipan, and the word for the fruit, the date, has one T in English and two in French, but it’s otherwise the same word.

[00:06:08] So I don’t like that on two reasons.

[00:06:11] Number eight is quince paste or Pâte de Coing, which I do like.

[00:06:17] Number nine is almonds, amandes.

[00:06:20] Number ten, hazelnuts, noisette.

[00:06:22] Number eleven, walnuts, noix.

[00:06:25] Number twelve, orange or clementines from Corsica, of course.

[00:06:31] And number 13, apples or pear or any seasonal fruit, I listed 12 or 13, I’m not sure, my numbering might have gotten off, but there are 12 or 13, and you can include some chocolates or anything that you enjoy.

[00:06:46] Each family has variations of these desserts based on their preferences. The key is the number of desserts. It has to be 13. It symbolizes plenty and joy, and of course Jesus and his 12 apostles.

[00:07:01] And if you want, you can turn it into a game where you swallow one dessert at every stroke of the family clock at midnight. And we had an old family clock and we tried to do that in my family, it was great fun because we were allowed to stay up until midnight with our new toys and then we got to race to eat the 13 desserts in a few seconds. It was always a highlight of Christmas, as well as singing Christmas hymns and whatever.

[00:07:28] These days in France, the other culinary traditions have to do with oysters and foie gras and turkey as well but that’s more for Christmas day.

[00:07:40] And for the most part, most families celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, and then sleep in on Christmas morning and have another big meal on Christmas Day.

[00:07:53] Join me again for a regular trip report next week about a long biking trip in France with Susan and Ron Crump.

[00:08:03] Thank you all for listening and I wish you all a joyeux Noël.

[00:08:07] Au revoir.


[00:08:08] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.


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Category: Christmas in France