Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Christmas meals were the topic last week over lunch with my colleagues.  Foie gras or oysters? Capons or turkey? Menu planning was my boss's major task for the week, and he described with considerable anticipated pride his poularde au vin jaune with morille mushrooms. You know, traditional and simple, he said.

"Are you all doing the 24th and the 25th?" I asked naively.  The entire table stared at me and blinked before answering, "Of course."

The tradition in France is to celebrate the réveillon on Christmas Eve with an elaborate late dinner and then to celebrate again on Christmas Day with a lunch that lasts the better part of the afternoon.  After over a decade of Christmases spent here in France either as a visitor or a resident, I've still not gotten entirely used to this gastronomic marathon.  This year there were major diplomatic negotiations that preceded the events because my husband's extended family had outgrown the small family house in Troyes.  Eleven adults and four children were not going to fit around a dinner table or find appropriate lodging for the night, so the tradition was revised, the band split up. 

We went to Troyes for the 22nd and the 23rd.  On the 23rd, we had a lovely stand-up-or-sit-down-finger-foods meal with the whole crowd.  As the afternoon drew to a close, Le Petit took his little cousin, a girl almost exactly his age, around the garden and gave her a guided tour while the adults drank coffee and discussed politics.  Then half of us drove back to Paris.

On the 24th, my mother-in-law hosted the réveillon at their apartment five minutes away from our own.  I'd spent the day cleaning our apartment and needless stressing over last-minute details, and I arrived in a cute red dress and an unbecoming rotten mood.  I also arrived late, after making a stink about having the whole thing start early because of my kids' bedtimes.  Not for the first time I was grateful to have a forgiving, accepting family.  We ate good food, drank excellent wine, and exchanged presents.

On the short walk back to our apartment, we crossed a family with small children who was getting into their car. "Hurry back!" they called out to us, "Le père noël is on his way!" And Le Petit, who had earlier been quite concerned that he would get back home in time to avoid accidentally running into Santa Claus before reassuring himself through detailed geographic calculations, stopped to tell them:

"No. Le père noël does two rounds! First Finland, and then Denmark, and then Germany..."

We'd explained to le Petit that Santa would take on European countries in a particular order, leaving France and Spain for last, since that's where children stay up the latest.  Le Petit, with his love of all things to do with maps, elaborated on this.  The father of the family tried to listen, but Le Petit's explanation was slow and confused and it was late. "Happy holidays!" he called before driving off.

Mademoiselle skipped back home carrying her two new treasures, a bright red flowered handbag and a small suitcase with a teddy bear.  She wore a red dress, like Mommy, and none of my bad attitude.  "Belle, belle!" she pronounced herself upon looking in the mirror in the hallway.

Santa did come by, sometime before my bedtime.  Le Petit spent most of Christmas day working on his new Lego train set, putting it together step by step with a calm determination that I certainly didn't have at his age.  I'm not sure I have it now, to tell the truth.  He also did two puzzles of the world, and I tried to contain my angst at discovering a piece was missing.  Missing pieces of things make me feel more anguished than they should.  I fumed and fretted about this one for some time.

When my in-laws showed up and the meal I'd been so worried about miraculously produced itself from my kitchen, I had to admit that all the pieces that mattered were here, anyway.

It's unseasonably warm tonight.  I'm the last one awake in the whole family.  I can hear birds singing in the garden six floors below, and the only explanation I can offer is that either they or I have been drinking too much on this Christmas night.  But in the French tradition, I stopped drinking at four o'clock in the afternoon.  So I'll turn off the Christmas lights and go to bed.

Joyeux noël everyone.


Claudia said...

Joyeux Noel! Nice story. I'm glad everything worked out nicely.
We had the usual Danish Christmas, and we are all delighted to be home from the inlaws, reveling in our individual worlds. DD is planting one of her walkie-talkies she got under one of our chairs, and startling us with her disembodied voice.
I like the French tradition of quitting drinking at 4 pm. I had to do the same yesterday out of necessity; too much at lunch.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Claudia - thank you! A walkie-talkie, now there's something our apartment is missing. Hee hee!