This is annual event put on by the MJC in Puivert – a celebration of the Winter solstice and the return of the light. This year it took place on the 19th December – a while ago now, which is why it’s beyond time to publish this post. I love that the French (at least, locally) celebrate these pagan festivals. It says much of their connection with nature, which there is so much of compared the UK, and may also be something to do with the fact that they are (apparently) known as a nation of farmers – vs. Brits, which are said to be (by the French) a nation of shopkeepers!
The event itself is usually preceded by two or three afternoons of lantern making. Despite our best intentions these sesssions, just like last year, so once again we ended up hastily DIY-ing some lanterns at home on the weekend before the festival. Wanting to improve on our efforts of the previous year we tried doing it properly, which meant sticks and tape, PVA glue and tissue paper, except we used crepe paper, which really didn’t work as well. That aside, we ended up with passable lanterns and also had last year’s at hand as backup.
On the night of the fête, the event starts in the halle opposite the post office where everyone gathers to light their lanterns. Usually there is some sort of introduction with traditional songs, music, and then a procession from the village to the lakes. This is the highlight for me, but this year we missed it, unfortunately – so no photos other than those of us making our solitary walk along the same route a short while later. There some nice photographs on the MJC’s website which are worth a look.
After the short walk everyone gathers at the lake, where there is a buvette selling refreshments (vin chaud, chocolat chaud, and cakes) and a fire pit. Usually the organisers hand out Chinese lanterns that are lit altogether and sent off into the sky — a beautiful sight, if not a little concerning on the environmental front, but no forest fires were started, as far as I know.
This year, after the procession and the lantern-lighting – there was a spectacle centred around the lake, with an illuminated unicorn boat approaching the beach, with the dame blanche waving a torch bearer as he waded through the water to the short, delivering the light for the coming year (I presume that was the symbolism of it.) The dame blanche is a European and American legend (more about this on Wikipedia) as well as local one, as it is said that she haunts the ruined castle in Puivert, as she also does many other ruins across Europe. Despite being dead, she’s a busy woman!
Alongside the spectacle (which was hard to follow because DD kept trying to run off with her friends – a nightmare to keep up with in the dark!) there was music, a large open fire pit, and – later – some fire dancing and drumming. Both times we’ve been we missed the later goings on as it ends up being too late for the little ones, and often too cold too. We were lucky this year that it was a relatively mild night but still by 7pm they were ready to go home. So home we went.
Next year we will have to make sure we make it in time to the procession and the Chinese lantern lighting, since I think (with children in tow) that’s the nicest part of the event. We just need to be more organised – and also to say no to waiting for friends. (James’s idea. I’m over it.) One day we’ll be able to go with children capable of not getting lost, falling into the cold water, or being abducted by strangers, and then I hope to enjoy the evening a little more. For any parents of older children (or generally of a more relaxed disposition) or sans enfants, it’s a lovely evening, I’m sure!
As an aside, I’m always struck by the magnificent flyers for these local events, and this one is no exception. If you like them too, head over to www.angela-design.fr to see more of her work.