an ice cream yule log
This year was definitely a very white Christmas, and not only because of all of the gently falling snow that created quite the winter wonderland, but also because of its newness. I experienced a whole new kind of Christmas this year, first and foremost because it was the first without my family. Although this year marked my third Thanksgiving sans famille, it was my first Christmas. Luckily though, I was still able to spend it with a family, even if it wasn't my own. This was also my first Christmas abroad, in la belle France.
So the big event in France is the réveillon, the big, family, Christmas Eve dinner (and Christmas mass for those so inclined). Around 5pm, we headed to Belley, a town of 12,000 where my host dad grew up, to have dinner with his family at his sister's apartment. His 91 year old mother and brother's family joined us as well. I quickly got over the awkwardness of being the sort of odd-man-out and meeting a bunch of new people because they were so warm and
welcoming, and most importantly, hilarious. After the first half hour, my cheeks were already hurting from laughing so much.
the dessert spread
As this is France, we of course had round after round of food, (though I abstained from certain parts of it), small hors d'oeuvres, then huitres (oysters), foie gras (made by my host mom's brother), salad, saucisson chaud aux truffes (a lyon specialty, hot sausage with black truffles), then an entire spread of desserts. My host mom said that in Provence, it is a tradition to have 13 different desserts and we came pretty close--chocolates, chocolate dipped oranges, clementines, meringues, 3 buches de noël (yule logs)...needless to say I was rather stuffed by the end of the night, and warm too after champagne and at least 4 different kinds of wine (a couple of which I was politely forced to try, though I didn't put up much of a resistance), including a fabulous 1985 Burgundy, from a dusty bottle, saved for just such an occasion. I happily savored it with a wedge of comté, a match made in heaven. The evening's entertainment included a rousing round of "Silent Night" (en francais of course) sung slightly off-key by the adults crowded around an iphone from which they read the words (one of the cousins captured the magic on her camera haha). I answered all of the typical questions about where I'm from, what I'm doing here, Obama, explaining my masters and what I want to do with it, etc. They especially liked my answer to the "why France" question, toasting me when I explained that after spending a semester in Paris, I fell in love with France and voilà, the rest is history. At one point I made a point of defending California wines, though I didn't get a chance to tell the "Bottle Shock" story. Another time, another time Frenchies.
After the meal, it was present time, and to my surprise, I had my own little pile of cadeaux! Around 1am, the snow had finally stopped falling, the food was almost gone, and (after the typically lengthy French au revoir) we headed back to Lyon for "a long winter's nap."
The next day I stayed up late again to have a skype Christmas with my family. I finally got to see them open their European presents and I finally got to open my American ones from the box I had received a week earlier. Despite the thousands of miles separating us, and the blurry webcam, it was almost like I was there, a true Christmas miracle.
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
*Stockings are definitely not a part of the French Christmas tradition. When showing "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to my students, I had to explain the concept to some very confused faces.
Also, in general, their idea of "christmas decorations" is a Santa climbing in the window and a sad, lonely string of lights hung randomly from the roof. They are clearly much more energy conscious than we are, and are just beginning to catch on to the Hallmark, commercial-y aspect of the holiday, but I definitely missed driving through neighborhoods past extravagantly decorated houses (à la National Lampoon) listening to the 24/7 Christmas radio station.