The French Christmas compromise
I entered my office building at 9am the other day. When I emerged again at midday, something had changed.
Where the wind was once howling across a barren, empty grey square, a magical winter wonderland had appeared.
The annual Christmas Market at La Défense is my favourite festive offering, and its arrival coincides with a dramatic drop in temperature.
The display windows at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have been decked out in all their festive glory, and fairy lights twinkle against the night sky. To borrow a line from Bing Cosby: it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Only for me, it feels a little strange.
Weathering the French winter
The festive season is bound to bring on a bout of homesickness in any expat living far from home. For me, missing family and friends at Christmas is not the only thing at play.
“Back home, a mid-December bring-a-plate BBQ covers the seasonal socialising.”
Of course, there’s the weather to consider. Whilst I have enjoyed several Sydney Christmases in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, this year I’ll be lucky if the thermometer rises above minus three. Back home, a mid-December bring-a-plate BBQ covers the seasonal socialising. Finding time to celebrate the season with all our family and friends in France’s ever-shortening winter days proves no easy task.
French Christmas is spent à table
Naturally, the weather has a big impact on the food we eat at this time of year. For me, Christmas has always meant deliciously fresh seafood, mountains of prawns, cold turkey, ham and salads. I have always eaten well, a little too well perhaps, but the outside temperature and the thought of fitting into a bikini for an afternoon swim always kept me within my limits.
Food is, of course, a big part of an Australian Christmas, but it is rarely the only part. Generational footy matches, epic backyard cricket battles and trips to the beach are common.
In France, with the frosty air and slippery roads keeping us all firmly inside, the Christmas meal holds utmost importance. The last time I celebrated Christmas in France, we sat down to eat at midday and did not move from the table until 7pm. Even then, it was only to wash the dishes and reset the table for dinner.
Not much of a holiday for the French
The longest holiday of the year for Australians falls over Christmas. The combination of summer and festivities make it a delicious time of freedom, rest and fun. Not so for the French, whose main holidays fall in the middle of the year: the Northern Hemisphere summer.
“The last time I celebrated Christmas in France, we sat down to eat at midday and did not move from the table until 7pm.”
In France, Christmas Day is a public holiday. But Boxing Day (the 26th) is not, and many organisations stay open for business as usual in the week between Christmas and New Year. As such, Christmas can feel rushed; a hectic time packed with cross-country car trips and not enough sleep. Then, back to work the next day, food hangovers and all.
Compromising for a French Christmas
I’m going to turn up the heating in my apartment – high enough so that I can wear my bikini and thongs; listening to Aussie Jingle Bells on repeat. Glass of champagne in one hand, and a forkful of bûche de Noël in the other.
How do you celebrate your expat Christmas? Share your anecdotes and traditions below.Image credits:
1. Visitingeu via Flickr.
2. Jawcey via Flickr.
3. hopeless128 via Flickr.
4. ajsmith227 via Flickr.