Noël chez nous

Christmas treeThis Christmas we are staying home for the holidays. Seems like every year at this time I get all dewy-eyed about home and what it means to me. So here goes…

Over the years of living in France, Christmas is the one holiday that I have been militant about celebrating the same way as we do in Canada. This is purely cultural: we are not churchgoers or believers in anything other than Santa Claus.

I cannot speak for all French people, and there are strong regional differences especially in the Alsace, but the ones I know do not make the big deal of Noël that we do. As soon as December rolls around, I find myself compelled to decorate the house, bake cookies and listen to Bing Crosby. Within the family we exchange lists and buy gifts for each other, wrap them and put them under the tree on Christmas Eve. We hang stockings and fill them with so much stuff they inevitably fall down. The next day the house is filled with mess and chaos and over-indulgence. Personally, I would not have it any other way.

Here in France the traditional celebration takes place on the 24th. The children receive their gifts at the end of a long ‘repas du reveillon’, during which Père Noël is supposed to have mysteriously done his magic. When my kids were small I refused to do it this way partly because it seemed like torture to keep little ones up so late, only to crank up the excitement with gifts just before they were sent to bed. Also because I am the biggest kid in our family and could not have managed to calmly sit down and enjoy a fancy dinner with presents in the offing!

My beaux-parents never made a big deal about Christmas. They were happy to come to our house and follow the Canadian tradition. And yet every year we went through the same charade of me having to explain to them what would happen when, and they were inevitably lost when we went to bed early on the 24th in anticipation of the big day.

It’s been three years since we moved into our ‘new’ house and it’s only just beginning to not feel new anymore. The stairs are nicked and the walls are scuffed a little, the dogs have peed on the floor enough times to remove any illusion of pristine newness. Perhaps most importantly, we have made enough memories in this house for it to begin to feel like home.

This feels like the first real Christmas here in our new home. The first year was still very unsettled as we had only moved in October and barely had time to unpack our decorations; the second was consumed by the tragedy of my Belle-mère’s untimely passing just a few days before Christmas. Last year we travelled to Canada to visit family in Toronto. Now, finally, we are home for the holidays together here in France.

It is looking like it will be a green Christmas this year. We had a bit of white a few weeks ago but for now the temperatures are mild. No matter. We will light the fire and nibble on shortbread, sip champagne and listen to holiday favourites like this one.

Et vous? Will you be home or away this Christmas? How will you celebrate?

16 thoughts on “Noël chez nous

  1. Would you believe it but we are in for a Green Christmas in Montreal & Toronto…In Toronto, it happens a lot but in Montreal it is a little less frequent. It truly doesn’t feel like Christmas at all though I am not complaining that temperatures are staying above freezing!

    Our tradition was to go to midnight mass (when we still went), then open the gifts one at the time and then eat. In the good years (when we were all much younger), we wouldn’t go to bed until 5 or 6am which is what we call a “Réveillon” not the French version which happens during the evening of the 24th. We mostly spent the 25th in bed or relaxing. We won’t be doing it this year as each of my siblings will be celebrating with their kids and grand-kids and we will get together on the 26th instead…beginning of a new tradition as we all get older! (Suzanne)

    1. It’s interesting to hear how the tradition goes in Québec….so for you, ‘le réveillon’ literally means being up all night? Wow, I am clearly not made of the stock to be French Canadian! Even in my youth I was always more of a morning person and it only gets worse with age. I hope your new tradition is enjoyable – at least with getting together on the 26th, the pressure is off! It won’t be the same without snow, though. In normal years I would say that at least in Montreal you can always be sure there will be the white stuff, even if it arrives a bit late. But it seems our climate is changing…for real. Joyeux Noël to you both!

  2. Your Christmas sounds perfectly lovely. It will be extra fine now you are all settled. We are at one of my sisters this year, so I am greatly relieved the house preparation is not on my shoulders. Shortbread, champers and Bing. Three of my favourite things. Merry Christmas to you and yours lovely Mrs France.

    1. It will be lovely indeed, especially as I have actually managed to make a Cheergerm creation to enjoy with the bubbles – your cardamom shortbread is wonderful! Thanks for your wishes, Lisa, and a holly jolly to you and your lads!

  3. Sounds as though you’re going to have an excellent time MEL..The traditional Christmas is best- even better if you deduct Bing.. I shall be having Christmas Eve/.Day at home so I hope the films are good then Boxing Day I’ll be with the family playing Father Christmas in my own right.
    Have a Glorious Time
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    1. I can think of no one who would make a better Father Christmas! I’m sure he will spoil your Reuben. I shall look forward to reading all about it. Big holiday hugs right back at you! xo

  4. I used to travel around Christmas time a couple of years ago but now that I’m older and wiser (and realising that travelling during Christmas & New Year is very expensive – prices increased for everything!), I will be spending Christmas with family in my hometown.
    Here’s wishing you in advance MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    Best wishes,
    Kat

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