This year we spent a magical Christmas in France with our daughter, hubby (SIL) and adorable baby granddaughter. The night before we arrived a heavy fall of snow transformed the surrounding countryside into a magical white world which set the scene for the perfect “White” Christmas. Their home was also transformed with an array of Christmassy decorations including a huge Christmas tree with twinkling fairy lights, glittering gold tinsel and red shiny glass baubles. Our baby granddaughter captivated by the tree, squealed with delight when I allowed her to “gently” touch one of the shiny decorations. The wood burner, although temperamental, also added to the overall ambience especially when you looked outside at the snow and then felt the warmth within. Hypnotised by the fire I watched the dancing flames as the wood glowed in the hearth and I felt at peace.
Late one murky afternoon as the snow turned to drizzle we went in search of Santa (Father Christmas) in a nearby town. When we finally tracked him down he was so errrr… words fail me errrr strange Mr. Piglet could not bear to watch for fear he would burst out laughing.
Santa’s Grotto consisted of an old bench on the pavement with straw and wood cuttings strewn on the ground for effect. It actually looked more like left-over props from a Nativity scene than Santa’s Grotto. Santa seemed ill at ease with his role and paced up and down the road, nervously clutching his umbrella. In fact, he appeared totally disinterested and hardly the jolly “Ho Ho Ho” Santa I remembered from our children’s Santa days. Even his dishevelled costume looked somehow out-of-place. However, to be fair I’ve never seen a “French” Santa Claus before so had no frame of reference as to the norm in France. Perhaps this was normal?
His side-kick “Santa’s Elf”, as I named him, sported an impressive camera and tried in vain to sell photo opportunities with “Santa”. We went armed with our own camera and pretended not to understand when he thrust a ticket in our direction while jabbering at us in French. This was a “lost in translation” bonus as we shrugged our shoulders, smiled and continued to take photos. Baby granddaughter looked slightly puzzled but smiled right on cue when she saw the camera. She loves having her photo taken!
The Santa encounter although a little bizarre is still one of my treasured memories.
Christmas day dawned to a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine, but no snow. We were all up and dressed early eager to open the pile of neatly wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. As this was our granddaughter’s first Christmas we were pleased to share the special moment as she carefully picked off the colourful wrapping paper to reveal the wonderful surprises within. Initially she was more fascinated by the paper and labels than the present itself. However, she soon realized the prize was not the paper and became increasingly excited the more presents she unwrapped.
As I sat back and watched our granddaughter surrounded by all her wonderful presents my thoughts turned to all the children in the world who have nothing and to whom Christmas is just another day and it made me feel sad. I thought of our children and now their children and wanted to hug them all. Christmas should not be about receiving expensive gifts but more about sharing and family. Has Christmas become too commercialized with the true meaning of Christmas lost as we become overly obsessed with buying expensive presents? Strangely enough, apart from her Jumperoo, it was the simplest presents such as building cups, a talking book and a little bear with enormous eyes which seemed to give her pleasure.
Our main Christmas celebration was held on Christmas day at lunchtime rather than the more French traditional Christmas Eve, evening. I much preferred this idea as last time we spent Christmas in France the meal started at 9pm and finally finished around 3am in the morning by which time, as you can imagine, I’d lost the will to live.
Four families sat down to Christmas lunch, each responsible for preparing and serving one course. Our contribution was the apéritif plus champagne. You may think this was simple – wrong! The more we discussed our catering ideas with our daughter the more we realised it was not just nuts, crisps and sausage rolls. No, this had to be a full-blown gastronomic manicured experience to Michelin star standard. Our daughter raised her eyes heavenwards, praying I think for divine intervention at some of our suggestions. OK, so what’s wrong with cheese and pineapple on sticks? Anyway, by the time Mr. Piglet and I went on a grand tour of the supermarket looking for inspiration, I was a nervous wreck! We were determined not to let the “English” side down.
The guests arrived Christmas morning bearing trays of exquisite chocolates, salmon, terrain (similar to pâté but far more sophisticated), more chocolates and a host of other mouth-watering offerings plus very good wines to pair with each course.
While waiting for all the guests to arrive and settle (a long drawn out process in France) we were asked to serve coffee.
The exquisite tray of chocolates provided by SIL’s mother were opened and then I spotted my daughter had plated up the sweet mincemeat slices I’d made the previous day. I was mortified. Problems with the oven meant they were overcooked resulting in tasteless dry solid teeth breaking squares of oatmeal. They only escaped the dustbin because I can’t abide to waste food.
So there they were in pride of place on the table. I could have cried. They certainly lacked the finesse of the handmade French chocolates and looked about as appetising as a dried up bowl of porridge. Before I could utter a word of protest they were offered to the “Frenchies” as “traditionally” English. I groaned inwardly “Beam me up Scottie!” They nodded and smiled politely but their body language spoke volumes! I prayed they had good dental cover as they chewed on my oatmeal bullets.
Finally everyone arrived and it was time to serve tray after tray of dainty aperitifs and copious amounts of champagne. At least apart from my home-made sausage rolls everything else was French and less rustic. Two hours later we finally sat down for Christmas lunch. The rest of the day was a blur of excellent food, wine and more food PLUS even more chocolate for dessert. I think the French are definitely chocoholics.
I am not sure what to make of “French” Christmas lunch other than that while we really enjoyed it, we felt completely alien as though we were outsiders looking in. Language proved to be a big problem and we felt isolated; observers rather than full participants. This made the ten-hour lunch rather surreal almost like sitting at the movies watching a good French film, but without the benefit of English subtitles. Thank goodness our baby granddaughter still converses in smiles and baby coos. However, as I looked at her I felt lost knowing it will only be a matter of time before we will become the grandparents who speak in that “funny” language. People say language submersion is the best way to learn so I am already scouring Ebay and Amazon to order an English/French dictionary before my next encounter!
On our last but one day in France we went to a family resort in the mountains near Saint Pierre de Chartreuse. The gentle snow-covered slopes were a hive of activity. Not with skiers but with people sledging, cross-country skiers and walkers wearing special snow shoes.
Fascinated, I studied the assortment of sledges amazed they came in so many different shapes and sizes (I’ve obviously led a sheltered life). However, I was absolutely delighted to see it was not just children who were whizzing down the slopes, but adults too. I can’t wait to return with a sledge and snow shoes. Yay!
What a great Christmas…but we miss our family already!