Friday’s French – Trêve des confiseurs

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I heard a new expression on France Info this week – “l’entre deux fêtes” – which literally means “between two celebrations”, the first being Christmas and the second New Year. It’s the same construction as ‘l’entre-deux-guerres”, which is what the French call the interwar years.

We're spending the "trève des confiseurs" walking off the confectioners' ware at Chambord
We’re spending the “trêve des confiseurs” walking off the confectioners’ ware at Chambord

When I mentioned it to Jean Michel, he said it wasn’t new but I checked it out on google and “l’entre deux fêtes” only has 4,000 hits whereas “l’entre-deux-guerres” has 576,000 so it can’t be that popular. Then he told me something much more interesting. The period between Christmas and New Year is also called “la trêve des confiseurs“. “the confectioner’s truce”. Now that’s intriguing!

The expression first appeared in France around 1875 during a period of lively discussion in the National Assembly (lower house of parliament) between the monarchists, Bonapartists and republicans about the future of the constitution of the Third Republic. In December 1874, all the groups in the National Assemblee agreed that the New Year was not a good time for this sort of debate. To promote peace and harmony, they decided to go their separate ways and take a holiday until the New Year.

The confectioners were delighted and business boomed! As a result, the satiric press coined the expression “trêve des confiseurs”.

Today, the expression is also used to describe the traditional period of slack on the stock exchange and on the football field at the end of the year.

There is another meaning as well – the period in teaching hospitals when medical students devote their time entirely to caring for the sick and are dispensed from university classes.

I don’t know any similar expressions in English to describe the period between Christmas and New Year. Do you?

And just in case you didn’t know, there is no Boxing Day in France!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisI’m contributing this post to Lou Messugo’s All About France Link-Up. Click here to find out more about Christmas in France! 

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17 thoughts on “Friday’s French – Trêve des confiseurs”

  1. How interesting how it became so named – ‘to promote peace and harmony!’
    No Boxing Day. What about the equivalent of Boxing day sales? I hope not!

    1. A sweet cures all apparently! No, we don’t have Boxing day sales, just winter sales that begin this year on 5th January and last until mid-February.

  2. This is NOT a complaint! I looked up the word TREVE and the online Larousse has the word with a circumflex and another with a grave accent. I can type neither on my lap top but wonder why or how these things are deceided. No wonder dictation competions are/were popular in France.
    Watched a recording of a TV prog. about ‘John Lewis’, a huge department store in the UK and how thanks to On line shopping, Black Friday and even social media big stores hardly keep to the idea of January Sales. We live in interesting times.

    1. Hi Lesley, mea culpa! I’ve corrected all the “trève” to “trêve”, which is the correct spelling. The circumflex usually indicates that a letter has dropped out, such as château. It can sometimes be used to distinguish two different meanings. I just assumed it was trève, like grève, because of the pronunciation. Trêve has a rather complicated origin: true (v. 1130), then trieue (12th century) and trive (1150), triue (117() then treve (1210) from the francique “treuwa”, meaning “safety”, attached to the German Treue (fidelity) and English true. It was first used to mean a military armistice. In 1694, “trève marchande” was used to mean the period during which trade is permitted between warring states, so you can see where the “trêve des confiseurs” comes from! The root of all these words is identified as being that of the Greek droos (solid). So I don’t know why there is a circomflex. Someone problably just wrote it at some time and everyone copied! Thank you for pointing it out. Our January sales are not until 6th January (to 16th February) this year.

      1. amazing etymological research Rosemary, however as for the sales they may not start in shops till 6th Jan but every online seller has been doing Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales that last a week or more, even in France this year. I hate it!

        1. Etymology is one of my passions! I don’t mind Black Friday – I got my daughter in NYC to order one of those upsidedown umbrellas for me at half price :).

  3. I don’t think there is any term for the inter-Christmas and New Year period, but no doubt somebody will invent one. Great opportunity there. 🙂

    What an amusing story about “la trêve des confiseurs”, so very French. It reminds me of the 1814 Congress of Vienna, which dragged on for many months. To enliven proceedings, Talleyrand proposed a competition to choose the best cheese from all the countries participating in the Congress.

    Of course it was a French cheese which won – Brie, “the cheese of kings and the king of cheeses.”

    Do you think that there will ever come a time when anything is more important to a Frenchman than food?

    Let us not forget Entre-deux-Mers to assist the cheese on its passage.

    Happy New Year.

    1. I love the story of Talleyrand. I’ll always remember it when I eat brie now – and drink entre-deux-mers!

      Happy New Year to you too.

  4. “Trêve des confiseurs” – brilliant! And you raise a good point: we indeed don’t have any name for this period in English. The closest thing I can think of is “yuletide” but this has a wider meaning. In our local Luxembourgish language, there is also no direct equivalent. Very interesting – thanks! #AllAboutFrance

  5. I’d never heard of this expression either and asked my Frenchie husband if he knew it and he said “bien sûr”, but then I’ve never heard him use it. It’s a wonderful concept and I love how it came about. Like everyone else, I’m quite sure we don’t have a name for this period in English. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

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