Le jour de Saint Nicolas - or why you should give your kid a bundle of sticks

Last year, during our unforgettable three week stay in France, we spent a day in Nancy. I can't quite remember exactly what we did in Nancy. Perhaps we did some clothes shopping. Perhaps we bought some Christmas gifts. We definitely ate something delicious, though what it was is a little foggy. What I do remember vividly about that day was the drive (I was about to say "home" because that is how it felt to us) back to Lunéville. It is a short 30 minute drive on the freeway but this time we decided to take the backroads. And on our way we discovered the small town of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port. The town is home to a beautiful basilique honoring, of course, Saint Nicolas and it is said to hold relics of Saint Nicolas brought from Italy. And today there are most likely many, many people there honoring the patron saint of Lorraine.

Click on any individual image above to see the full version.

 We found this place right down the street from the church and it is one of my favorite photos from our trip!

We found this place right down the street from the church and it is one of my favorite photos from our trip!

According to Wikipedia (for whatever that's worth) there is some funny history between the residents of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port and the neighboring town right across the river that has nothing to do with St. Nick but is worth a quick read as it involves loudmouths, poop and mean chants!

As with so many things about my France and my French-ish upbringing the custom and story of Saint Nicolas that I thought everyone knew turns out to be more regional. In Lorraine, Saint Nicolas brings his gifts around on December 6th and puts them in your shoes. It's a lot cuter and less stinky when those shoes are traditional wooden sabots but at our house we just make do with what we've got. Here's a lovely chocolate version from one of the stores in Lunéville that I wouldn't mind having right now.

And as with so many of the slightly scary, weird stories that small children in France hear regularly, the story of Saint Nicolas fits right in. There's a whole bunch of kind of boring stuff about him being the protector and helper of those in need (I guess that makes sense then that he would be the guy who goes around and gives us gifts on Christmas). But what I always loved to hear about was "La Légende de Saint Nicolas". It tells the story of how three children, who were lost in the woods, found shelter at a butcher's house, were then of course slaughtered by the butcher and then eventually "saved" by Saint Nicolas. The ending of the story seems to change a little depending on the version that you read. If you are in the mood for a lovely gruesome tale, you can read a version of the whole thing here.

The other part of Saint Nicolas' story that I love is the fact that as he goes around from house to house handing out his gifts of fruit and nuts and candy, carried by his donkey, he is accompanied by the evil butcher (who has repented), known as Père Fouettard. Père Fouettard is there to whip any of the children who have been naughty instead of nice and he brings with him lumps of coal and bundles of sticks for the kids. Some traditions say that every child should receive the sticks in addition to the treats because we are all a little naughty. And I kind of like that way of looking at it if you can take the corporal punishment aspect of it with a grain of salt. I don't believe in or condone spanking or whipping or hitting at all. But why not let your kids know that they aren't perfect, no one is perfect, and that is okay? Perhaps, after growing up in California, one of the things that I most love about French children's stories is the complete lack of P.C.-ness that they all have. It is a refreshing change to not have everything need to be censored and monitored and watered down. 

This year since I haven't been feeling well, I was not as prepared for today as I would have liked. But when my daughter wakes up she will find her oxfords filled with fruit and chocolate and a felt ornament I made to take the place of the sabots de noël.

Oh yeah, she will also find an adorable bundle of sticks, even though she is pretty much perfect!


La rentrée

Even though it still feels like summer is in full swing, back to school time is officially here. And with it comes shopping for one of my favorite things - school supplies! Technically, I am not the one going back to school, but I can never resist purchasing a few extra "work" supplies when I buy the things on my daughter's list.

My true appreciation for a well stocked backpack/locker/desk developed over the years thanks to various visits to France. The kids there (and my mémère) always seemed to have the best writing implements and notebooks and little pencil bags to keep it all organized. It wasn't until my junior of year of college, spent in Grenoble, that I learned how to properly take notes using the shorthand that the French students were using and also using a 4 color pen to make the notes extra clear and neat. And don't even get me started on the wonders of using the French Ruled paper (similar to graph paper). It really helps keep everything neat and tidy. All of it was definitely a dream come true for the type A girl in me!

So in honor of la rentrée (back to school) I have rounded up some of my favorite school supplies that every girl/woman should have, whether going back to school or not. 

1. A cute pencil bag will help keep your pens and pencils all in one place where you can easily find them. These can be useful even in a large purse.

2. Fountain pens are one of the best things ever! Really. You should buy yourself one right now if you don't have one already. I have the red version of this pen and use it for all of my writing. It just makes writing more enjoyable and for me that is totally worth it. 

3. 4 color pens are great for taking notes, or doodling.

4. Rhodia note pads are one of my new favorite things, especially this style that folds over the top. I use mine for my daily to-do lists and also for taking notes in meetings. 

5. Le Petit Prince - just a great, classic book to make you feel like you're back in French class.

6. Because we could all use more stripes in our life, always!

7. Adorable composition books are a must. They are great for work, class, keeping a journal, to-do lists, blogging ideas...In addition to the super cute ones, I always stock up on the 50¢ ones that are in every store right now.

8. Pencils are key for me for taking notes and underlining in books that I'm reading. Yes, I still do this, even though I am not in school anymore. And yes, my daughter calls me a nerd every time she catches me doing it. 

9. Your phone deserves a "back to school" refresh too! I love this simple Bonjour phone case from Garance Doré.

10. I included this one just for fun. And because since I'm not much of a morning person, and neither is my daughter, making mornings more enjoyable is key to a successful school year.

11. These par avion stickers from Rifle Paper Co are just plain pretty. You might have noticed by now that I'm a big fan of all things Rifle Paper Co.

To see more back to school suggestions and French products that I love visit me over on Pinterest