Boules de Noël


It’s almost Christmas and around here that means a bit of sparkle. Here in France, our sapin takes pride of place by the window, hung with lights and garlands and boules de Noël.

One of the mysteries of the French language is why decorations are always called ‘boules’. Christmas balls is a decidedly unfortunate English translation of what we would simply call decorations, rather like the little lamb’s balls from this post of blog years past.

Not having much of a mind for history, I was nonetheless consumed by seasonal curiosity to wonder about the origins of ‘boules de Noël’. Wikipedia reveals that the tradition goes back to the 16th century when the first Christmas trees were decked out in natural bounty like fruit and nuts. One day an inventive glass-blower from Germany had the idea to create balls of glass to hang on the tree. When drought brought a shortage of apples one year, the tradition of ‘les boules’ came to France via the northeast region of Les Vosges.

Our balls are duly (and not dully, as a French colleague of mine used to write), dusted off and hanging in all their shiny splendour from the tree. They are not just pretty but provide a reminder of how fragile are such celebrations. They hang upon a thread of close-knit families, traditions and good health. They depend upon good will towards one’s fellow man and a bit of bounty to share with one another.

I love Christmas but struggle with what we put around it. The gifts, the decorations, the feasting. The squandering of time and money, the stress to get the right things and over-indulge.

And yet there is a core idea of purity around Noël that I cling to from childhood: a fresh field of snow, a star in the sky. A carol sung with joy, familiar faces at the door. A warm fire with a drink waiting inside. A full heart when a fond wish is granted.

I’m off in search of that holiday magic for a couple of weeks. May your days be merry and bright until we meet again next year!


24 thoughts on “Boules de Noël

  1. I’m with you. I’m increasingly turned off by the overeating, the shopping, the gift list this that and the other thing, the reproachful sneer from a certain in-law of “what made you think I would wear THIS brand?” I can’t wait for Jan. 2 and normalcy.

    1. Good grief. That sneer sounds like grounds for cancelling Christmas. I also struggle with this for different reasons as my belle-famille don’t understand the way we celebrate and every year have to go through explaining what Christmas stockings are and why we have turkey dinner on the 25th. Time for a tipple methinks….

      1. That’s beyond appalling! 😦 So sorry for your loss….each Christmas marks the turning of another page between ourselves and those we’ve left behind.

  2. I know exactly where you & Francetaste are coming from. After years of feeding and entertaining a large mixed bag of former relations and friends(I’ve been divorced twice) and with no parents alive any more, we are having a pared down Christmas here with the six people I love most in the world.
    Even the gifts and food is simple this year too.
    I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson with age.

  3. The overindulgence these days makes me feel tired! I love the tree and the decorations, and simply eating tasty food. I cling to the french culture of small producers and intensity of tastes. Less is more. Recently a small norman cider producer that i visit regularly said – we could intensify our production, but all we’d end up with is watery fruit and compromising the flavour. I like to apply this to Christmas, we can increase the production, intensify the quantity of food and gifts, but when all is said and done, the true flavour of christmas is really about the quality of family, the bonds between us and the fun of being together. Have a wonderful time!

    1. Wonderful analogy. I’m trying to do less and enjoy more this year too. Thanks for your wishes and hope that your Christmas flavours are just right. Cheers! x

  4. A little overindulgence is fun and part of the thrill of Christmas. Just keep it under control. The main fun is celebrating with close friends and family .Merry Christmas and happy New Year to everyone.

    1. Ah, relaxed may be too much to hope for….I’ll go for a bit of wonder and no breakdowns. Hope you have a holly jolly celebration with your family, David. xo

  5. I so agree with you. The trick is to simplify and just go with what feels good. At my advanced age I’m done with social convention 😋 I am, however, blessed with grandchildren so the sense of wonder remains through their eyes. And thank god for two wonderful daughters in law who also like simple and cosy. Wishing you a lovely holiday🎄🎁🍾💕

  6. A happy and peaceful Christmas to you. We are eschewing the tree this year and most of the trappings, I caved in and baked a cake, but other than that, two quiet days followed by a short break to a place we’ve never been, Poland, to celebrate (shhh) my birthday and prolong the evasion of ‘real’ life. Best wishes for 2017 when it arrives- let’s hope the new year brings rather more joy to the world this time.

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