If there is one holiday I’m religious about, it’s Christmas. This has nothing to do with any religion (although I still believe in Santa). But having grown up in a family that made a big deal about Christmas, I cannot conceive of spending December 25th any other way than with a turkey in the oven and presents on the tree. Cue Bing Crosby, jingle bells and ho, ho, ho.
Living in France makes it challenging to celebrate Christmas my way. First of all, there’s my husband. His idea of the perfect holiday is on the ski slopes. Every year, he trots out the idea of going away somewhere, preferably to a mountain lodge, instead of doing our usual gifts and celebrations. And every year, I nix that (at least until the 26th).
Then there are his parents. Like most French people, their concept of Noël focuses on le réveillon. This is the traditional celebration of Christmas and New Year’s with a long meal on the day before the event, in this case on the 24th. It’s an extravagant feast involving oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras…and, of course, fine wines. The meal can go on for hours. Small children are sent to bed then awoken after midnight to open gifts from le Père Noël.
My idea of Christmas involves a whirl of last-minute preparations on the 24th, then getting up early on the morning of the 25th to open Christmas stockings and presents. We start the day with champagne and orange juice, followed by brunch and a lull to enjoy quiet pursuits and get the dinner ready (in Canada, this would be a 20-lb plus turkey that needs several hours in the oven). By the time we sit down to enjoy our Christmas dinner, the party is mostly over for the French.
Over the years, I’ve tried various ways of bridging the two traditions in our home but it never seems to work very well. My in-laws are vaguely perplexed by our way of doing things, and I find it mildly depressing to try to conform to theirs. Which is why half the time we solve the whole issue by going to visit family in Canada.
But not this year. This year, we are going to stay right here in France and have two Christmases. Which only makes sense. After all, we have dual everything else: cultures, languages, nationalities. We even had two weddings.
So we’ll go out for the réveillon on the 24th. There’s a little hotel in the mountains about an hour from where we live, run by cousins of my husband (and the early exposure to altitude will make him happy). My beaux-parents will stay there and we’ll join them for a festive Christmas eve, exchanging gifts à la française. We’ll even be able to enjoy the champagne – safe in the knowledge that one of our adult children is the designated driver.
We’ll hang out the stockings when we get home and then spend our Christmas day in the traditional way. Which is to say making a huge mess, filling our gullets with goodies, then roasting like chestnuts over the fire while loudly arguing about everything from our favorite dessert to the name of that song we used to sing. We’ll probably even Skype in family from Canada to add their 2 cents.
Hopefully, this way everybody will be happy. Or as happy as any normally dysfunctional family can be while spending time together and trying very hard to enjoy themselves.
How do you spend Christmas? However you celebrate, Joyeux Noël à tous!