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December 22. 2012 10:03PM

Le Reveillon: Families celebrated until dawn


Robert Perreault of Manchester holds a photograph of a Franco-American Christmas scene from Manchester in 1905. The period photo, from Perreault's personal collection, was taken by Ulric Bourgeois, a noted Manchester photographer during the early 20th century. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Robert B. Perreault, an instructor of conversational French at St. Anselm College, also is the author of several books on Franco-American culture. One of those books, "Franco-American Life and Culture in Manchester, New Hampshire: Vivre la Différence," includes the chapter "Quintessential West Sider of Yesteryear," which features recollections of Franco-American Christmases past from Canadian immigrant Violette Leclerc.

Born in the town of Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Québec, Leclerc moved to Manchester with her family at the age of 14 in 1909. Perreault interviewed her in 1983, two years before her death.

Her Christmas recollections, from "Franco-American Life and Culture in Manchester":

"I remember the beautiful red sleigh my father built. Each year, after midnight Mass, someone dressed as le Père Noël would arrive at our house in that sleigh. He always carried a huge bag full of gifts for our Christmas stockings: apples, oranges, candy, dolls and a few pennies, all for the girls; for the boys, there would be an assortment of wooden toys all built by my father. After opening our gifts, we'd have a réveillon (midnight supper) with tourtières and cretons (meat pies and meat spread), head cheese, sausages, all sorts of cheeses, pies, cakes, wine for the women, eau-de-vie (hard liquor) for the men. My grandfather was quite a fiddler. He danced like a marionette. There was music, singing and dancing 'til dawn."

Perreault has is own fond memories of midnight Mass and réveillon in Manchester. Now 61, he says his family is too widely dispersed and he gets too tired for réveillon. But he will attend at midnight mass at St. Anselm this week, and at some point - either on Christmas Eve or Christmas day - he will enjoy some traditional pork pie.


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