Early Winter Highlights from Essoyes

January 11, 2020 at 1:15 pm 4 comments


My favorite Christmas present: a little something for the birds…

It all started in early December, when the village of Essoyes marked the centenary of the death of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The day was cold, but thankfully also clear and sunny, and a substantial group of villagers, plus visiting dignitaries, along with Emmanuel Renoir, grandson of Claude Renoir, joined Mayor Alain Cintrat in honoring the day by gathering at the great painter’s grave and placing a bouquet of flowers there. We all then proceeded to the garden of the restored Renoir home, where a commemorative tree was planted. Then it was on to the salle polyvalente for brief speeches by the mayor, the visiting dignitaries, and Emmanuel Renoir. And of course, for a celebratory toast of champagne.


A few days later I was pleased to discover that our local Casino food market was selling Christmas trees. Not wanting to get sap all over my car, I decided to haul it home by foot, the way I had done last year with no problem.

Hah! Some Christmas trees are heavier and more cumbersome than others, even when they are not necessarily taller than others. This is what I learned, the hard way.

I won’t go into the details of my laborious 1.8 km trek home: suffice it to say that I had stop every few steps and rest; and that this tree (unlike the last one) was not put-on-my-shoulder-able, which made the whole thing much more difficult. I’m pretty sure that my determined trek through the village with this cumbersome little tree probably added to local opinion that I am either very strong and resourceful (une débrouillarde?), or very foolish, and perhaps a bit crazy. Probably both.

Often when I am walking home through the village I am offered a ride by a friendly neighbor; I almost always decline, because walking is my main form of exercise, and I need it. I suppose I would have declined this time also, because of the sap issue; unless I had been lucky enough to have a friend with a pickup truck drive by.

However, I did not have that kind of luck that day. I was offered help by a kind woman who had a handcart she offered to loan me, but by that time I was nearly home and a light rain was beginning to fall so I didn’t want to trouble her and also (I admit it) I was feeling, rather stubbornly, that if I had gotten this far on my own…

The only other detail worth sharing is that at one point (the point at which the rain was turning from gentle to a little more robust), one of the buttons of my coat was snagged by the nasty plastic mesh that was confining the branches of the tree. When I found myself forced to one knee to try to free myself from the mesh (and the tree, of course), I considered the possibility that having refused that kind offer of assistance had perhaps been a mistake. But too late!

My arms are not long enough to have been able to take a picture of me and the tree together when I finally arrived home, so this picture will have to suffice. Trust me: that tree was bigger than it looks here, and it was a pain to carry home. But I did it!


My pesky not-so-little tree

I do think that perhaps that will be the last Christmas tree I buy. I have been rethinking the whole matter of Christmas trees as a result of having joined my friend David Downie’s Tree Club on Facebook. (Until recently, I have believed that trees raised for being Christmas trees meant that there is no harm in buying them; but apparently the matter is a bit more complicated than that. And there is, of course, that nasty plastic mesh they wrap the trees in, which is not at all earth-friendly…)

Soon after, holiday decorations began to appear in Essoyes. Of course they are very cheerful and pretty, and I’m grateful to those villagers, and to the village staff for brightening the dark month of December in such a way. I must confess, though, to having the same curiosity about French Santa decorations that most Americans have. (These are the things we wonder: Why is Santa hanging from the water spout, shouldn’t he be up on the roof? Is he stuck there? Is anyone going to help him? And where are the reindeer?)

Then there was the whirl of Christmas itself, and New Year’s. I was very happy this year to have my whole family with me here for Christmas. We were having such a nice time together that you will have to just picture for yourself the festive meal, the chilled glasses of superb local champagne made by our friends and neighbors at Champagne Nathalie Nourrisat, and the creamy, wonderful buche de Noel made by our local patissier. Trust me: it was all quite delicious. But we didn’t take pictures of any of it.

New Years was quiet, which is precisely the way I like New Years to be. (After all, it is really just a question of moving from one day to the next, is it not? Don’t we do that every day? And–more importantly–haven’t we really celebrated the season enough by now? Isn’t it time to hibernate a bit? Do we really have to have another very late night with lots of champagne and too much food, only a week after the last time we did that?)

Well, anyway, that is the way I feel about New Years. (It’s not very French of me…)

What I do love, however, is the annual tradition in Essoyes, in which the mayor invites the village sometime in early January, to welcome the New Year, and to accept his voeux (good wishes) in the salle polyvalente, which is a community gathering place. Part of the tradition is the mayor’s brief report of the highlights of accomplishments of the past year and challenges and plans for the coming year. This year was poignant, because after 40 years of service to the community, and 20 years as mayor, Mayor Alain Cintrat announced officially that he will not be running for mayor again. And so there were tears in a few eyes as he recapped some of the things he and the municipal team had accomplished during his years as mayor. Then he was presented with a medal of honor from the village, and his wife was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Being mayor of a French village brings with it heavy and more or less constant responsibilities: this is not always fully appreciated by everyone. Also, much like being First Lady, the wife of the mayor is also very much in a role of public service. Truly the Cintrats have given so much to this community: and expressions of gratitude and appreciation for all they have done is the least we can do for them.


After the speeches, there was champagne (By now, I shouldn’t have to tell you that, right?) And tasty morsels of galette, the traditional almond-filled pastry that is made for the celebration of Epiphany (the twelfth, and final, day of Christmas) were served to the adults by children of the village.

Then convivial conversation continued between friends and neighbors until it was politely hinted that it was time for us to go home, by someone flicking the lights and off. Whereupon we eased our way out into the darkness, still chatting. And the darkness was still lit, for the moment, with a bit of holiday cheer…


There will be more to come soon: in the meantime,  meilleurs voeux pour la nouvelle année, à toutes et à tous! 

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

Entry filed under: About Essoyes. Tags: , , .

Bonne Nouvelle Année d’Essoyes! (2020) Locked Down in Essoyes, Le Grand Est

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kevin sisson  |  January 12, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    A midwestern girl all the way.

  • 3. betweenmeandthee  |  January 13, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    What a delightful post! I didn’t know one could visit Renoir’s home! Don’t give up on a beautiful fresh Christmas tree. One of Gods beautiful gifts to us. Thank you for your blog. Marla

    Sent from my iPhone


    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  January 14, 2020 at 7:51 am

      Why, thank you, Marla! Yes indeed you can visit Renoir’s home and you should, it is delightful! (But be sure to check that it will be open when you visit Essoyes…it is not open all year, or every day.) Thanks for your encouraging words, too. We’ll see about the Christmas tree. Maybe festive branches will do as well and be better for the earth 🙂 …


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