French figures: The shellfish that’s a festive must-have

This love-it-or-hate-it luxury foodstuff has its own season and festival in France.

French figures: The shellfish that's a festive must-have
Photo: AFP

Oysters are traditionally eaten in the cooler months – a hangover from when refrigeration was in its infancy and eating raw shellfish on a hot day was a high risk activity.

But in France they are not just associated with winter but with Christmas.

The traditional French family feast on December 24th is a shellfish banquet and the oyster is the undisputed king of the table.

But you will see oysters throughout the festive season in France, particularly at Christmas markets where the oyster stall is almost as popular as the vin chaud (hot wine) as people snack on the festive favourites.

The tradition of a seafood dinner on December 24th actually stems from a time when seafood and particularly oysters were the food of the poor, so having a few dozen oysters for dinner was seen as a 'fasting' day before the major Christmas feast.

READ ALSO Why do the French eat so much seafood at Christmas?

The slippery little oyster has seen a dramatic rise in its status since then and is now regarded as a luxury foodstuff, with prices to match – especially over the festive period.

If you are an oyster fan, head out to France's west coast, especially around the islands of Ile de Ré and Ile d'Oléron which are famed for their oyster beds.

This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France.

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French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.