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Pin: A Provençale Christmas story

Braveheart (c) Kristin Espinasse

Just back from a doctor's appointment in Marseilles (Youpie! No need for elbow surgery--just a lot of kiné, or physiotherapy visits to repair my coude. Today's photos , and the following post, are from 2 years ago. Meantime, it is not too late to enter the drawing for a one week stay in this Provençal village home.

The other day, while Smokey and I waited in the school parking lot for Jackie, kids filed past our car, occasionally stopping to point and laugh: "Mais regarde sa langue! Just look at his funny tongue! Ahahahaha!"

Laisse tomber! Don't worry about it, Smokey. They don't know your story and there are so many stories out there. The holidays are a time to open up our minds and our hearts. Joyeuses Fêtes.

le pin (pahn) noun, masculine 

: pine tree


le pin d'Alep = Provencal white pine
le pignon de pin = pine nut
la pomme de pin = pine cone
le code pin, le numéro pin = pin code, pin number

AUDIO FILE:  listen to Jean-Marc read todays word, phrase, and example sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Cette année, notre sapin de Noël est un petit pin d'Alep.
This year our Christmas tree is a Provençal pine.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

When Jean-Marc suggested hunting for this year's Christmas tree in the forêt behind our house, our daughter wrinkled her nose. Now there was a grimace I could translate in French or English: it said that all her friends probably had REAL Christmas trees, the kind on display at the mall!

Our daughter's reaction made my husband even more determined. It was high time to lift the consumer veil from our children's eyes: A true arbre de Noël didn't always come from the checkout lane! Not this year anyway--not when a forest dense with pines crowded our back yard.

Allez! Jean-Marc persisted, dragging our Christmas tree snob off the couch.

I hid in our room, where I'd taken refuge from all the holiday frenzy. There, in the quiet, I heard the crunch of leaves as my husband, our teenager, and the dogs crossed over the boules court on their way to la chenaîe

Not 10 minutes later and they were back. Strange.... They must have encountered les chasseurs and had to postpone their search. I sank deeply into my bed, wondering just when the tree chore would get done! Why didn't I keep the ugly plastic tree of yesteryear? It had been so easy to part with it, while cramming the contents of our lives into two economy trucks last September. What a bad decision that was! (the tree, not the cheap movers. Not one lamp broken in the deal!).

But what was the deal with our tree? I threw back the covers and got out of bed. In the living room I found Jackie back on the couch, watching TV. 

"Well, what happened?" 

My daughter smiled. "Rien". 

"But did you find a Christmas tree?"


"Well, do you like it?"

"Oui," Jackie nodded, and the stars twinkling in her eyes were proof of that. I felt a bit star-struck myself, bewildered by the peaceful atmosphere. Wasn't tree-shopping supposed to be chaotic? Et bien, we had skipped the commercial venture this time!

My daughter followed me into the entryway to our home, where a rustic fireplace and two felt-covered fauteuils have become a favorite resting spot.

There stood our Christmas tree, between the cozy sas and the dining room. Jackie knelt down on the ground to arrange the area beneath the tree. "Papa collected some mousse in the forest," she explained, as she borrowed some of the characters from the crèche, setting them on top of the deep green ground cover.

The door opened and Jean-Marc came in, his arms full of firewood for the cheminée. "Alors? Ça va l'arbre? Your daughter cut it down."

"It's beautiful!" I admitted. "What kind is it?"

"Un pin d'Alep."

I ran to my dictionary to look up the term. Un pin d'alep is a Provençal pine. What could a hopeless Francophile want more than a French Christmas?

Un Noël Provençal

And what more could our daughter want than a real arbe de Noël? From the sparkle in her eyes, it was clear: this year she got her wish.


Bonnes fêtes! Happy holidays dear reader. May the spirit of the season grab you... filling you with peace, love, and forgiveness. 




French Vocabulary

allez! = come on!

la forêt = forest

un arbre de Noël = a Christmas tree

allez! = come on!

la chenaîe = pin oak grove

les boules = the game of Pétanque, read Gary's story

le chasseur = hunter

rien = nothing

le sas = (a synonym for sas is chambre, or room, but here it refers to a small entry way)

le fauteuil = chair

le papa = dad, father

la mousse = moss

la crèche = nativity scene

la cheminée = fireplace

amicalement = warmly


    French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


Smokey has taught himself how to eat, despite his handicap. And he has a trick or two for keeping his nerve-damaged tongue in place.... So if you see him walking around town like this, he's not snobbing you--he is only trying to hold himself together!

May you, too, hold yourself together this time of year--doing whatever you need to do to enjoy the moment. Not everyone will understand your position (just look at Smokey's!), but that's not your problem. Ce n'est pas ton souci :-)

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Carol Folino

A beautiful,heart warming story.Joyeux Noel to you and yours!


Bonne saison, aussi, Kristin et famille!:) Best wishes in all of your new adventures. 2015 is going to be fantastique!

Jackie Layton

Joyeux Noel. Merci for sharing your tale of finding un arbre de Noel.

I always enjoy stopping by.


So glad no surgery is required! Hope you'll post a photo of this year's tree. Joyeux Noel!

Marjorie from Newburyport, MA

Peace be with you and your family, and best wishes for love and happiness in the coming year.

Cynthia Lewis

Merry Christmas and my very best wishes for all of your family. Thank you for another year of sharing your delightful and thought provoking life adventures. Also, Happy Birthday a couple days in advance. Amicalement, Cynthia P.S. Very good news that your elbow will not need surgery!


dear, dear smokey.

Heather in Arles

Yet another thing to be grateful for - I am so glad to hear your good news. And this story is right there in the essence of what this season is all about. That it was topped off by photos of Mr. Smokey himself...well, I am just delighted. Merci, Kristi et Joyeuse Fêtes!

Adeline Richarson Reunion Island

Very good piece of news about your elbow. I hope the "kiné" won't be too painful.
Smokey, we love you!

Let me thank you for all the delightful moments you brought me all along these years. I do and will look forward to receiving fresh news from Provence.

Très heureux et joyeux Noël à vous tous & très grosses caresses aux deux 4pats !


I can't wait to see how may entries you end up with for your Provençal vacation house giveaway. I bet you hit 1,000!

Merry Christmas and best wishes to you and all your family for a happy, healthy 2015.


A lovely story, with a beautiful Christmas tree...Smokey makes it perfect!


Barbara Felicetti

Walking behind my older lab, her hips askew and prone to collapse, she wees if she's had too much water. I tell her that I'm looking at my future and we'll muddle through, she and I. She doesn't hear anything, (deaf as a post), but her tails wagging the whole time.

Julie Farrar

Peace to you and yours, Kristin. And I'm so glad there is no need for surgery.


Wonderful story. Thank you for the gift you've given me this past year, of learning French with my teen son!

Ken Scupp

So glad to hear that no surgery is needed. We sure do love our animals no matter what. La photo de votre fils de facebook--il serait un modèle. Joyeux Nöel tout le monde.

Carol Carney

Dear Kristi,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, USA. I look forward to all of your posts, own both of your books, and I hope you will keep this up forever! So glad you will not need elbow surgery. I wish you a fast recovery. Again, thank you for your posts, and have a great holiday!
Carol Carney

Anne Irons

My dear father always brought a tree home from the woods near our house in Pennsylvania. I thought it was the prettiest tree in the world.
Happy Holidays to Kristin, her loved ones and to those who write on this site. I enjoy all of the comments very much.

Pat Cargill

Yea, wooHOOOO, dearling darling, Smoky.. You are the most beautiful, the bravest, and in this photo the essence of regal! You look like the King of Dogs you are and so happy there is no surgery! Kristen, I love this story, and again thank you for your beautiful, heart-filled writings. May you and your family have a blessed Christmas and the best in 2015.


A lovely story!

Hoping you and your family enjoy the Christmas holidays and have a New Year filled with love, peace, hope and dreams come true!

Your heartfelt stories are always special and meaningful to me.

Joyeux Noel!!!

Cassie Alexandrou

Dear Kristin,

The messages in today's post, so beautifully written (as always), really touched my heart more than I can say, for I do not have your gift with words. I want to wish you and your family a merry Christmas. Thank you for sharing your lives with us -- the joys, sorrows, hopes, and fears. We are all on this journey together.


I loved these stories when I first read them, and they warmed my heart yet again. Kristin, I'm sure you're relieved at the good news about your coude. Hmm, does the word coudre have its root in coude? Joyeux Noel to you and your family! :)

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,

I loved reading this sweet story again. Do you have a Provençal pine this year too?

I'm so glad you won't need surgery!

Joyeux Noël et bonne année to you and your family!

One day I would love to see pics of the Foire aux Santons de Marseille! I have a lavender harvester couple that I love!

I'm making some creme de menthe brownies that my son asked for. I hope I don't eat them all before he arrives on Sunday!


Your arbre de Noël story pulled up memories of my childhood when my mother & I went into the woods & cut a pine for our Christmas tree. Everything is big business today & so much is lost along the way. O well, this a lucrative time for Christmas tree farmers and they are happy so we are happy for them.
Smokey makes it even more perfect, n' est ce pas?
No surgery is wonderful present😅
Passez des bonnes fêtes et bonne année a tous!
The prayer of my heart for all of us is lasting peace In our world!

Pat Cargilll

Kristi, I also want to say, I was moved by Smokey's being laughed at, seemingly shabby treatment by the children. It is a perfect example of how "difference" observed in others separates people and often results in shame and embarassment. It breaks our hearts for those we love, and ourselves. I have a lasting memory, very rarely Remembered now, of being asked by my friend's mother to come into the kitchen. There she asked me to turn so her friends could see the deformity of my greatly swayed back, which they laughed at. This is not a big deal in the scheme of life, but it had lasting percussions--I considered myself freaky and tried to hide it thereafter.

Many moons hence, I am reminded how foolishly we do and say things that hurt others. I have certainly done my share. The important message in this is the act and blessing of forgiveness. Giving and receiving, opening our hearts to one another in all our goofy stumbling ways, releasing the great divide of pride, we can find peace. i heard this once from a wise woman and it has helped me (belief in reincarnation, not required.:

If there is anyone in this lifetime, or any other lifetime, I have hurt ~
I ask forgiveness,
If there is anyone in this lifetime, or any other lifetime, who has hurt me ~
I forgive them,

They are free, I am free.

May we all find our hearts opening wider at this holiday season--cause we're all in it together!

Audrey Wilson

A Very Happy Christmas to you & yours and a Prosperous & Healthy New Year !!
p.s I am enjoying reading 'my prize' , "Flirting with French"

Patience in L.A.

It is the differences that endear us to our love ones. Some are on the inside, some are more visible on the out side. What a dear person you are and what a unique person is Pat Cargill who says so much in just a few words.
I agree,let's have 1000 entries and let me be the one who wins!
Happy Hannukah,Merry Christmas And the best of New Years!

Faye, Gleneden Beach, Oregon

Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2015 to you & your family!

Thank you for all of the great posts and gorgeous photos thru out the year (s)!!

I love Smokey -- and adore his adventures --- and his "look". Could be a kid's book? Remember -- a French word a day calendar 2016?

So glad you're not having surgery. Be well.

Holly K

Dear Smokey, you and I have something in common, we are both survivors! At the age of 15 I was bitten by a tick and came down with a disease that almost stole my eyesight and has definitely made things a little more challenging. Along the way there has been a lot of medication that caused a LOT of weight gain. In this current American climate where most folks figure you are better off dead than heavy, I get a lot of very unfriendly attention, exactly like the kids at the school! But you and I both know, each morning is a gift straight from the Lord, and we appreciate it so much more than folks who have not had their travails yet!! Joyeux Noel Kristen, your lovely family and Smokey Dokes and Braise! Life, even when it's complicated, can be such a blessing!

Angela Bell

I am remembering with a smile the story about the pauvre sapin from one of your early Provencals Christmases. That same plastic one? My tree this is year is more like the "leaning tower of Treesa," but it lights up our home anyway. Je vows souhaite joyeux Noel et bonne annee!


What a lovely story! Glad your daughter got caught up in the Christmas spirit! I've been subscribing to your blog for years and always enjoy reading about life on the other side of the Atlantic. Sending warm holiday wishes (from sunny Florida!) from our family to yours. Merry Christmas Kristen!


Our dear Kristi,
What a beautiful story and wonderful pictures!
Your words and thoughts fill us with true Christmas spirit!
Thank you!!!
You gave me a sweet gift of recalling my own experience of cutting down our Christm a s tree
in the White Mountains of dear dad ,brothers,sweet mama and puppies sharing in the fun!
Natalia. xo

Leslie NYC

This week I went to a wreath-making workshop at a community center in a poor neighborhood. I was with strangers, wrestling to make a loping, gangly wreath along with others who were doing the same. A couple of people were quite talented. We talked easily about grief, holidays, depression, joy. It made my holiday season to be DOING something with people, rather than rushing around stores or moping and filling with anxiety at home. I live across the street from a park that has a crooked,Dr. Seuss-like pine tree which is ceremoniously lit every year. It all goes together--I feel misshapen and tired but also festive and full of wonder.
Your post spoke to me two years ago, and again today.
Joyeux Noel et Mes Mieux Voeux Pour L'Annee Prochaine!


Joyeux Noel and Happy New Year to you and all your family on both sides of the ocean.

Jill Ferrie

Merry Christmas to you and your dear family, Kristi. Thanks for sharing your heartwarming stories of life in Provence. It helps to connect me to a place that I love.

catharine ewart-touzot

a very merry Christmas and wonderful new year

Joan L.

Joyeux Noel et Bonne annee a Tous et merci, tout le monde, et a Kristin en particulier, pour tous les mots de sagesse de 2014. Joan L.

Brenda Prowse

Joyeux Noél à vous chère Kristi! So glad that you do not need surgery. I love the Christmas tree story. And I have added the new French words to Anki, the app I use for language study. It is a bit like flash cards that my grade school teacher used and lets me review and review and review.
Many of my US friends have entered your contest to win a week in the house in Provence-they were so excited to get the e mail. And I used it as the opportuniy to let them know that we are going to sell our house in the US and buy an apartment in Paris! Thank you for your wonderful posts.


Thank you for your wonderful posts, Kristin.

All my best wishes to you and your family for a peaceful, joyful, and Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.



Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and the reminder to make the holiday your's easy to get wrapped up in expectations (whether self-imposed or those we let others impose upon us). Go Smokey - goldens are perfect, no matter what!!
Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Augusta Elmwood

BRAVO, Jean-Marc ! You taught your daughter a valuable life lesson! Joyeux Noël à toute la famille!


Poor Smokey--the kids know not what they do. And I might have been one of them at that age. Your story teaches a lesson about humility and not making assumptions about others' problems.

Re the tree: This year, we just moved into a new home surrounded by Christmas-tree-like evergreens, with a view of the bay beyond. Saplings on our lot are growing fast, threatening our view if we don't chop them down, hence my husband wants to cut one down for our Christmas tree. But it is a rather sparse, misshapen specimen. A few years ago, I would never have agreed to let him use it as our family Christmas tree, especially with relatives coming in from afar. But age has mellowed me, and I have agreed to a tree that is funky, but our own.

Diane Young

Ah, les pins. I miss our live Christmas trees of yesteryear. How wonderful that JM and Jackie found something right there to bring home. When I was young, we would go into the woods and cut a pine. After marriage, we went to Christmas tree lots and always managed to get a tree that was too tall and have to chop a little off the bottom. My husband would string the lights and I would do the ornaments. The last year we had a real tree was the second year of a tree crash, complete with water on the rug and a few broken ornaments. Now I'm alone and have a little table tree. With age come changes so rejoice in the real trees as long as possible. Joyeux Noel.


Joyeux Noel a vous et a votre famille. My life is richer because of your writing and sharing with all of us. In gratitude, Frances in Napa.


Go Smokey! How individuals deal with a handicap may seem strange to others, but it keeps the person/dog moving on in life. Life's too fun to let a dropping tongue/dragging foot keep us away from the excitement!

Kathleen from Connecticut

Joyeux Noel to the Epinasse family. I feel for Smokey. He is such a great dog ( does he know that he is dog?)
We have been buying Concolor Christmas trees and the first time we bought one, we told the tree farm owner that it was the ugliest one in the field so he shouldn't have too difficult of a time to find it. He said that if it was, he would give us $5 off and he did. Well to everyone else it was ugly,but to us it was so beautiful and we could put our lights and ornaments on it and they really showed off. It is getting harder and harder to find OUR perfect trees.
Glad to hear that you don't need surgery. Now remember to go to PT.



I love Smokey & have always followed his life's challenges. He is most special. Joyeux Noel pour tout!

Tish Tyler

Beautiful story - Joyeux Noel to you and your family, including Smokey and Braise. I can hear Smokey now saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!"

Edward Bornet

As long as you show pictures of Smokey, you will have a fan. Actually I am trying to improve my French by reading your blog. The best of the holiday season to you and your family and a prosperous, healthy 2015

Paul DeBoer

I loved this story. thanks for opening up a small window into the life of your family and sharing it with us. Blessings to all of you during this season and the coming year.

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