THE GOURMANDS’ ALMANAC.
There are few months in France more favorable to eating well than that of January, which, in spite of the Republican Calendar, which has since Charles IX always begun the gourmand calendar.* Without speaking of the Feast of the Kings, which is equally that of pastry-makers and the occasion of a great number of indigestions, the time of gifts is also that of nourishing parties.** This time of the year, viewed as that of the extinguishment of grudges, family reunions, obligatory visits, etc., is a true time of amnesty and jubilation because almost all of these numerous reunions are marked by a grand meal. It has been proven that one only reconciles well at table and that the clouds of indifference and quarrels are never entirely dispersed except by the sun of fine food. Moreover, New Year’s Day is the time of gifts and almost all of those that are given in money are later transformed into comestibles. Comestibles themselves are the most pleasing gifts that one can offer. They are given and received without repercussions; and whichever shop assistant or Journalist, who might have scruples about accepting an ivory case, accepts a pâté de foie gras from Strasbourg or Toulouse, which costs ten times more, without feeling compromised.
It is not at all only these solid dishes, which are the objects of Parisian liberality in this month. It is known as that of the circulation of candies and sweets of all varieties; and the rue des Lombards therefore has the upper hand over the rue Saint-Honoré. The candy-making industry each year studies how to vary the inventions of their surprises and of their ingenious baubles. Sugar takes on, under their dexterous hands, a thousand diverse forms in order to seduce the eyes and flatter taste, and these merchants are classified, because of their industry, in the realm of artists. Dragées, which were hitherto unquestionably reserved only for baptisms, are today eaten all year long and the majority of pockets have been transformed into candy boxes.
*Charles IX (r. 1560—1574).
**The “Fête des Rois”, translates literally as the “Feast of the Kings” since it commemorates the visit of the three kings to the infant Jesus. In English, it is generally referred to as Twelfth Night or Epiphany. In both countries this was historically the occasion for exchanging gifts and also incorporated many whimsical elements of the pagan festival of Saturnalia.
The French have a special word, “étrennes”, for the gifts that are exchanged at the New Year, which distinguishes them from any other type of present. They remain very important, especially in employer/employee relationships such as, for example, between an apartment owner/tenant and the building caretaker or that between clients and vendors.