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The village that turns itself into an advent calendar

Every year, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence commune of Cruis, residents celebrate Christmas every day from December 1 in true neighbourly style

The village of Cruis in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (PACA) has taken seasonal advent calendars to a whole new level.

Every evening at 5pm from December 1 to 24, residents are invited to a different front door for hot drinks, snacks, sweet treats and fruit.

The idea was dreamed up by Monique Micoulin, who loved Christmas so much she suggested giving away traditional Provencal biscuits calissons from her front door. "But the first year it didn't work," says Michèle Bessac, who now organises the event with her husband Alain. "We didn't have 24 doors so we abandoned it."

They persisted however, and the second year round they managed to persuade 24 people to volunteer to do a 'door'.

"They put up decorations outside their front door, and set tables up in their front garden, terrace, or on the pavement or whatever space they have outside their house.
"Then they prepare hot chocolate, tea, coffee, hot wine, soup, and cakes or pizza, fruits, sweets, biscuits, whatever they like. Then, starting at 5pm, they just give it all away to whoever comes by."

Every door in the scheme has a large number attached, and is decorated and ready by December 1, just like a more traditional Advent calendar, so that everyone knows when each door will open. "If it's raining or snowing, we put up a shelter," says Michéle, "but the point is for people to wrap up warm. It's Christmas after all!"

No-one knows how many people will turn up. The first year sometimes it was only half a dozen but last year the fewest was 20 people and the most was 70.

And it's entirely free. Each evening's host pays for everything. "But once everything is finished, that's it," says Michéle. "It's not about feeding the world, it's about neighbours meeting each other and spending a pleasant hour or so together."

She and Alain were touched when Connexion readers Jo Webb and John Lambert offered to host a door. "They don't even live in the commune so it was lovely, and we're really looking forward to their 'door'.

"We're also thinking that next year we should expand the idea so that it's not only 'doors' in the centre of the village, but includes doors all over the commune and in neighbouring villages as well."

People in other villages around France are starting to copy the idea. "We were the first, but wouldn't it be marvellous if it became widespread?

"People don't know their neighbours any more. They drive to work, they shop at big supermarkets, they do their admin online rather than at the mairie. So this gives people a way to meet each other."

The local police even dropped by at one 'door', curious to find out what was going on. "We explained and they stayed an had hot chocolate and cakes with us," said Michéle.

Her husband Alain makes an photo album of all the 'doors' each year and people buy copies as momentoes. "People wear Santa hats, and big smiles. We really do start Christmas early here in Cruis."

She says it's not an official event organised by the mairie, and they aren't even an association. It's just a group of people who agree to take part each year. "And this year we had six more volunteers than we needed!" says Michéle. "Sometimes neighbours or families do a 'door' together, and that works really well because many hands make light work. The local school does a 'door' and so do the boules players. Anyone can do a 'door', anyone can come to any door. There are no exclusions, no exceptions. It's Christmas."

Now in its third year, the scheme has really changed things in the village and has opened new possibilities for everyone. It really creates community, explains Michéle, and people meet each other who would otherwise never have met at all. And because all the doors in the centre of the village are decorated and have a large number on them, it makes the whole place feel alive and welcoming.

In Cruis, Christmas starts on December 1.

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