Le Feu de la Saint-Jean
This weekend in the Dordogne Valley and across France, many villages are celebrating the start of summer with bonfires and fireworks.
In pagan times, followers of the pagan sun cult would gather for a bonfire on the eve of the solstice. The celebration was later associated with St. John the Baptiste’s feast day, June 24, by the Christians.
Nowadays, it’s a major event on village calendars all over France. We joined the festivities the tiny village of Alles-Our-Dordogne on Saturday night. They planned a “couscous périgourdin” for the meal.
We were advised to bring our own “couverts” or place setting.
At about 8pm, we drove down to the local “marie” or townhall, which also serves as the village school and meeting hall.
The local guys built the bonfire tower earlier in the day. The center is a huge ball of straw. Next, they piled on dry branches and finally, covered the whole thing in fresh bamboo.
The movie, “Wicker Man” comes to mind.
Strange how no one is talking to us. Maybe they’re planning on adding the Americans to the fire later on.
Just kidding! The party was just getting started. With the meal, they had a duo of local musicians playing everybody’s favorites. We all sang along, even the Americans!
This group of old friends grew up in Alles, moved away to other parts of France for work and are now retired here. It was a little bit like crashing someone else’s high school reunion, but everyone was very nice and welcoming. I even met a guy who studied at the pastry school I went to in 2005.
Speaking of pastry, we had apple tart and cheese for dessert. I thought this was great, because we still teach the “apple strip” as a fundamental at the Culinary Institute of America!
“Allumez le feu!” Just before midnight, it was time to start the fire. It took a little tending to get it going. Once the bamboo started, the water inside made huge popping sounds like someone had sprinkled percussion fireworks on the fire. Across the river in Trémolat, they had fireworks going as well.
It was interesting to be a “fly on the wall” at real village fete. Apart from the language difference, it all seemed very familiar and normal. Families and friends getting together for a meal, some wine, some music and a bonfire.