Based in Paris | The Culture of Christmas

The Culture of Christmas

Culture: Christmas is HOME:

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”~ Hamilton Wright Mabie (1848-1916)

Buttery Spritz with coloured sprinkles & Fattigman Cookies

In the treasure chest of my childhood memories, I have a large section relating to foreign ‘anything:’ ‘languages.’ my mother’s record collection included songs and/or segments of songs in foreign languages. I recall Spanish, Greek, French, and German. These songs or segments captivated me and foreign language sounds always have held my attention. I had not given thought to it, yet now I realise it was connecting to something deep within. I remember the best ‘gifts’ were from foreign places, or ‘gifted by foreign people.’ My uncle travelled frequently to Mexico. As he lived in Minnesota and I was in California, he sent me or brought me something from Mexico when he visited. My uncle married a Norwegian woman – I felt like the happiest and most proud adolescent in the school to have a Norwegian aunt and, I felt, – “like I was the only kid to have a foreign relative”. I attended a very small virtually homogeneous school, yet in hindsight, my infatuation reflected my ignorance, and probably many kids had European, Japanese and/or Mexican relatives. At any rate, the best memories of Christmas tradition were the ‘buttery spritz’ and the ‘Fattigmann cookies’. My mother, in Norwegian cultural tradition, made seven sorts of Christmas cookies. It took her a week. Impromptu ‘pop-ins’ by family and friends would make any time a moment for tea and cookie Christmas cheer.

The Culture of Christmas

Christmas, my child, is love in action.” ~ Dale Evans (1912-2001),

As traditions go, I grew up fast and formed my own family at an unusually young point in my life for choosing that sort of important lifestyle. My three children grew up with the tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve- pyjamas. Photography has been my passion since the third grade. The children received a new pair of pyjamas each, one pair to the other, corresponding in some fashion for a unifying appearance. It was not fashion, yet it did lend a more beautiful quality to the photos of the Christmas morning tradition — discovering Santa’s gifts, the Christmas stocking, and opening other packages offered. Ultimately, I extended the limit to opening two gifts on Christmas Eve. The children aged and became bored with the pyjama gig. As a single parent, necessities often were offered as gifts, and graciously the children did appreciate everything.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993)

As is normal, I have continued to grow, albeit in many ways, under various conditions. I have lived from somewhat far to quite far from my family since the late 90s. My version of home and Christmas has greatly expanded. I lived near my mother in Maui Hawaii for two-three years, who by the way, strayed from home in the early 80s, and it was sad. And exciting. Her example of courage to change and live her life in Maui contributed to opportunities for knowledge and life-enriching experiences for the entire family. She and two women associates opened the first ‘bed and breakfast’ in Maui.

Before I lived there, I had spent one Christmas visit. As she habitually had no family at Christmas, she amongst others who had relocated farther from families celebrated at the beach with a Christmas picnic. When mainland visitors joined her for Christmas one year, she tried to revive the memories to replicate her previous family traditions. She began in earnest enthusiasm to host her guests as she thought would be in proper tradition – to no avail. She also held the belief that ‘one can never go back.’ I believe one can go anywhere as long as the focus is forward, inspired by fulfilling a favourable choice.

The sun and sand on Christmas were odd, yet they were equally welcomed and appreciated as a relief. A California native is accustomed to dark long days of winter as Christmas approaches. I am glad I was with her then, as shortly thereafter, she left us to go even further.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

I relocated to Spain’s Costa Brava for 7 years. First rowing to and from my first foreign home. It was shaped in the architectural style of a small castle. It had been uninhabited for the previous 26 years – a quarter century! It was situated on a private two-and-one-half-acre island near the bay of Cadaqués –a small traditional fishing village on the Costa Brava about 40 kilometres from France. It is a well-known village noted for, among other things, the frequent presence of Salvador DalÍ in the 70s. DalÍ’s home remains on the neighbouring island, and the museum in his honour is on the coast of the fishing village, Port Lligat.

Film dominated photography at this time. I had a darkroom below the main house in the small fisherman’s quarters on the island. The true gift of one glorious year was a spacio-temporal-life-change leap. It presented a world of new friends, social encounters, and many new cultural experiences. The year was graced with my daughter’s visit, the visits of three different artist friends from Maui, and the visit of the daughter of a Maui friend. The expansion of life experiences seemed otherworldly –as a miracle. It was a summer home, and no one had inhabited the home in winter. The spectacular year evolved in a state of pure presence. Being surrounded and captive by Nature’s glory; fierce sometimes icy winds, peaceful solace of gentle warmth to blazing sunlight, and calm crossings among the photons of the plankton glowing moonlight to vigorous-even dangerous ocean waters from sunrise to sunset. Then, time on the island was up. Next favourable stop… Barcelona.

Photo credit: anonymous screenshot The Culture of Christmas

Cadaqués like many Costa Brava villages in Catalonia celebrate Christmas with nativity scenes in the homes and weekend public theatrical performances that take place during the Christmas festivities in many towns and cities. Scenes from the birth of Jesus, stories of the struggle between good angels and evil demons, and stories and dialogues of shepherds during the first Christmas are versions of shared public art.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

The origins of this theatrical genre are the medieval performances that took place inside the churches on Christmas day. Currently, most productions are performed by amateur theatre groups in parish centres, social centres or theatres.

When I studied Spanish and travelled throughout all provinces in Spain, I thought, ‘Should I live in Spain, it would be Barcelona.’  I felt Barcelona held a city attitude with a village ambience. I was attracted by the gentle climate, its proximity to the sea, the mountains and the bordering its recent EU companion ‘La France.’ It was unpolluted and had one million residents less than its current situation. By 2008, pollution was evident and natural. It was disappointing, even painful. After I had accumulated binders of slides of the then-permitted street performers on and about ‘La Rambla,’ and also of the ever-changing ‘escaparates’ (window displays) of Barcelona. I migrated to digital photography.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

As society and people shifted so have the forms of public art. Cities of the world expanded genres to indoor theatre, opera and film. Nutcracker became a celebrated work of art for the Christmas season. Originally the adaptations evolved from the ETA Hoffmans 1816 short story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Since the late 1960s, it has been choreographed by many and danced by countless ballet companies, especially in North America. Tchaikovsky’s score has become one of his most famous compositions. I remember inviting my 10-year-old youngest daughter to the performance as a lovely mother/daughter experience. She had been attending ballet classes for 3 years, and I thought she would love it. Well, she, true to her nature of easily finding solace in sleep, slept a good part of the production. Upon my checking in to see how she felt about it, she said she was bored. I comforted myself. ‘Nice try, Mom.’

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

 Christmas and Barcelona living was enhanced by many friends, some from Cadaqués, others newly acquired via working or social encounters who welcomed and included ‘extras’ in the family. Nativity scenes, festive lights and decorations adorned every corner of the city. While each ‘quartier, barrio, neighbourhood’ maintained a distinct version and personality of its own. It was a surprise to me to feel foreign traditions as large cultural events, replicated nearly uniformly in all homes.  Perhaps I had not felt it so strongly in the US living within my limited choices. Likely. I frequently photographed the lovely and well-lit fashion in the windows of the city centre at night. The beautiful window displays were ‘year-round – remarkable.’

And yet, here it was clear … “It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.” ~ W.T. Ellis (1845 – 1925)

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

 Welcome to a Barcelona Christmas

During my Barcelona life, I was invited by a photographer acquaintance to photograph models in Sitges for a US bathing suit company. It was at this photoshoot that, haphazardly or not, I met a Canadian photographer who was en route home after completing a photography programme in Paris. I remember thinking … hmm, I want to do that.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

And… to fuel the fire for change, the nice, ‘wise young man’ at the rental car company told us his parents were planning to relocate to the country, and people our age should live in the country, not the city… We looked for a place in the country and chose the south of France, which evolved as one passage closer.

Photo credit. anonymous screenshot The Culture of Christmas

Saint Géniès de Fontédit, (pop 1527) and Lunas, (pop.663).

The Culture of Christmas Château de Lunas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

Lunas is one of the most bucolic feelings I’ve ever experienced. It is an idyllic precious fairy-tale-like village on the River Gravezon, about an hour up from and to the west of Montpelier. I attended my first Christmas Eve Nativity performance in an even smaller neighbouring village church with my new landlady and two beautiful adolescent daughters. I only had moved into the apartment on the river on the first of December. Family feelings for them continue. She and her husband, the owners of two apartments in the building, gave us the apartment on the river because we wanted the riverfront. They let us have their apartment and they took the other. Precious!

Christmas in Occitanie also is a time of nativity scenes. Christmas markets offer handcrafted gifts and food specialities, stunning food presentations from small to grand style in every village. Food, family and vacation are the overarching themes. Local children in village churches reenact the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. As American children, they unbox their train tracks and run their trains around the tree or elsewhere. Feasts abound with delicacies, exotic fruits and vegetables, shellfish, oysters, Saint Jacques, foie gras and champagne as standard. As a first for me, I ventured out into the chilly misty morning to find and chop wood for the Christmas fire. Not great planning, I would say in hindsight. Although, something about this period was presenting a platform of choice while exercising a state of pure presence.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

 Saint Géniès de Fontédit, founded in 1095, is one of 52 small medieval villages steeped in lore and built in the architectural circulade. The circulade is a fortified town in which the dwellings are arranged in successive circles around a central protective building: either the fortified castle or the church. During the 12th century, the ‘Cathar’ country was home to a dissident and austere religious group. Today the ambience of crumbling castles and majestic citadels crown hilltops as testimonials of inhabitants, considered heretics, remained vigilant for their safety. Each circle of houses constituted a rampart to stop or delay attackers.

In Languedoc-Roussillon, a coastal plain forms part of France’s largest wine-producing region. The surface area including the department of Hérault joined the reorganisation of territorial collectives into the Occitanie region (2016).  The landscapes are diverse and range from beaches and shallow lagoons to wooded limestone plateaus besprinkled with lakes. The thirteen departments of this region offer a very different, much more relaxed view of the country’s south than the popular Côte Azur.

Visitors here explore the lore and discover surprises. Local seafood is nearly immediately sourced from the lagoons. Languedoc’s varied wines are sipped under the influence of the Pyrenees Mountains,  stretching in a continuous line between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, spanning about 430 km. The highest peak on the French side is the Pic de Vignemale at 3298 m.a  The imposing barrier and backdrop belies the historic memories of defence between France and Spain. This intensity contrasts with the laidback seaside villages that slip you into the romantic imagination of a warp in space and time– worlds away and lives gone by. True to living close to nature, it is expected to recognise, mention and appreciate Friday 22 December 2023 – Winter Solstice. The day of the shortest period of daylight and it’s the longest night of the year – after which we’ll begin making our way back to 15 hours of sunshine every day. There’s something to look forward to!

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

In conclusion, Maui to a Catalonian fishing village to Barcelona: seven years of Spanish and Catalan living, with Christmases far from family. Saint Géniès de Fontédit, Lunas, and presently I am ‘based in Paris’. I must have dreamt it because I am here. I never have felt so ‘at home’.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

 I’ve been blessed to share Christmases with friends and ‘adopted’ family  – people of different cultures who have welcomed me. What I  appreciate most is the principal focus on food, family, and vacation. Of course, gifts always are appreciated and enjoyed, yet the focus can become dominating- even stressful.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

“These beautiful boots are made for walking.” Distanced by space and time nearly 23 years total. Yet my family never is far. I hold them close in my heart and they are always with me. Technologies of the day certainly help. My sister takes my visits in stride, and she feels not my distance but my presence thanks to technology.

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

I believe the citation below is true: an omnipresent focus on love will engender harm to none, and peace to all. I will not see it in my lifetime, yet I hope I’ve contributed something by my presence that will support the evolution of this state.

Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Beautiful Kwansa, whatever is celebrated this season, it is love. Let it bring peace. Rain, shine, storm, wind, let the love of life engender joy and eudaemonia! ‘Joy and colourful seasonal spirit to the World!’

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger

*Peace on earth will come to stay when we live Christmas every day.“~ Helen Steiner Rice (1900 – 1981)

The Culture of Christmas, Photo Credit: Aurore Rominger