A Touch Of USA In SW France – Les Fêtes De La Saint-Antione, Lézat-Sur-Lèze, France
Pre-Post Note/ We had a really cool week-end last week, and I thought my many USA-based blog readers would get a kick out of it. So, I’m interrupting our little mini-trip to Spain travelogue to post about it. I’ll get back to our Spain trip in the next episode….
Every Springtime in France, local villages all over the country put on festivals. It’s especially prevalent in the countryside, where the connection to farming is strong and the new growth of the year inspires multiple celebrations. The Fêtes start as early as March and continue throughout spring into May and June (of course there are a bunch of fall festivals too, but they come later).
In our little corner of the SW there are TONS of them, including a slew of Medieval festivals (where costumes and traditional events take place), music festivals, and town celebrations, but one of my absolute favorite is actually an annual tradition in our local little village.
The Story Of Anthony The Great
The history of the celebration in our little corner of the world goes back a looong, looong way…
Saint Antione, known in English as Anthony the Great or Anthony of Thebes was a rich man born to wealthy land owners in Egypt in year 251. At the age of 18 however he had a revelation and decided to sell all his goods and live as a hermit in the desert. He became a strict ascetic dedicating his life to the fight against evil, and is said to have faced the devil and demons multiple times throughout his many years in solitude.
He emerged from his retreat only for a few years in the middle of his life to tend to the instruction and organization of the great body of aspiring monks that had collected as a colony around him. However thereafter he retreated again, receiving visitors but otherwise staying in seclusion, dying at the ripe old age of 105. Several monasteries were founded in his name and he was known forever more as the Father of All Monks.
His link to flowers lies in the Greek root of his name Anthony, or “anthonomos” which means “nourished from flowers”.
Les Fêtes De La Saint-Antione
These days Saint Antione is celebrated in many towns throughout Europe, typically in January (the month of his birth, and death), but in our little local village of Lézat-Sur–Lèze the Fêtes De La Saint-Antione takes place every year on the 2nd Sunday of June, and it’s a full-town event where everyone participates.
The festival starts with a massive flea market on Saturday that includes food and music, and finishes with a stunning flower festival and procession on Sunday. The star of the celebration is a flower carpet created by over 300 local volunteers that stretches 1000 m in length throughout the town. It is laid out very early in the morning on Sunday and presented for only a few hours before the religious procession at 11am walks through and disperses the flowers.
A fleeting, but absolutely stunning piece of art!
This Year The Theme Was USA
Every year the festival has a theme which flows through not only to the food & festivities of the Saturday celebrations, but also to the design of the flower carpet and the accompaniment of the procession that goes through it. Last year the theme was a Celtic one, but this year it was the USA and the whole town went full board to show it off!
It started with American food (burgers and budweiser, baby!), as well as line-dancing and plenty of US flags all over town on the Sat. Then on Sunday the grounds were carpeted with flower art based on America. There was a multitude of intricate designs based on Native American themes, US National Parks, US pop culture (Homer Simpson was there!), iconic locations (Route 66), rock n’roll, baseball and a slew of other superbly creative ideas. Finally when the religious procession went through at 11am the accompaniment was a Gospel Choir, belting out beautiful songs along the way.
Quite the unique and fabulous experience! We had a total blast.
Oh And There’s Always A Place To Park A Motorhome
The other lovely thing about our festival is that we could have brought our motorhome with us if we’d wanted.
We didn’t bring LMB this time around (it was only a 10-min drive for us!), but if we had wanted to, we could’ve parked right downtown at the main parking lot by the village. Rural French towns are wonderful this way, and tend to be very accommodating of RVers, often with free or low-cost Aires or overnight parking right downtown, even if there is a campground nearby. It’s one of the things that makes France once of the top motorhoming destinations in Europe.
So if you decide to travel through France plan to go off-the-beaten-track and check for events like this. It’s always worth the effort no matter what the time of year and who knows, maybe you’ll find a theme that speaks to you too….
List Of Festivals in Occitaine (SW): https://www.tourisme-occitanie.com/agenda-des-fetes-traditionnelles
Les Fêtes De La Saint-Antione: https://www.lezat-traditions.com/