With no apologies for puns, John Ruler (who stayed sober enough to take take the photos) describes an unusual Advent tradition just across the Channel……….
It’s time to talk turkey in the tiny French village of Licques, some 30 miles along the coast from Calais. Come fair or foul, the Confrérie de l’Ordre de la Dinde Licques (Fellows of the Order of the Licques Turkey) – of which yours faithfully is an honorary member – have just held their three-day festival devoted to la dinde de Noël.
Free cups of steaming hot turkey soup, ladled from a monster cauldron and heated by an open log fire in the village square, heralded the arrival of the unwitting festive victims – a gobbling group of around 100 turkeys who spilled from a lorry to strut their stuff on the cobbled streets.
It introduced, too, the other joint stars of the show – a colourful cast of brothers and sisters from the Confrérie de Chou-fleur de St Omer, whose green cauliflower costumes mingled with the equivalent purple and white of their hosts and the Confrérie des Amis de la Tête de Veau de Licques, with their calf’s head symbol, they helped swell the crowd of some several thousand who bring a seasonal glow to the so-called Turkey Capital of France.
Headed by musicians from the local band and girl majorettes – the turkeys ambling almost casually behind – the joyful procession climbed slowly up the main street.
Then suddenly the crowds dispersed, some heading for bars and cafés, or for the pre-booked grand lunch of turkey in a massive heated marquee.
Many more had already snapped up seasonal and local fare, including the much sought after Licques turkeys, sold in a similar heated marquee on Saturday– or were simply recovering from to many glasses of licquoise, the local fire water at the previous night’s dance which always goes on until dawn.
The Monday after the party takes on a more serious note when farmers from other poultry producing areas – including Perigord whence the Licques turkeys’ distinctive black feathers stem – mull over the merits of the breed while local celebrity chefs prepare more culinary delights.
The famous fowl found fame for their flavour when 17th century monks of the Abbaye of Licques discovered the turkeys’ liking for the grass, berries, herbs and other vegetation while they were being led to the meadows.
John Ruler is author of the Bradt Guide to Nord-Pas de Calais and joint author with guild member Emma Thomson of the best selling Bradt guide to the World War I Battlefields.