Our part of the world – rural France – doesn’t go overboard about Christmas. The great feasting and celebration is reserved for Le Saint Sylvestre – New Year’s Eve – which is when they push the boat out.
When we arrived over 20 years ago, you would hardly know Christmas was happening except for a few evergreen branches tied to the lamp posts, and decorated with shiny red and gold bows, and inflatable Papa Noëls climbing drainpipes or dangling from flowerboxes.
The supermarket shelves would have a couple of bottle of Baileys added to their selection of liqueurs, and a few boxes of Ferrero Rocher next to the sweets, and that was it.
Over the years things have changed, partly at least to the growth of the British expatriate community, but it’s still fairly low-key. There are certainly plenty of luxury food items on display in the supermarkets, and toys, and tinsel, and jingly bells music.
I think back to the far-off days when we had more money than sense, and Christmas shopping began in October. Every shopping trip included boxes of crystallised fruits, chocolate liqueurs, shortbread, all to be ‘put away until Christmas day.’ Every week the trolley wobbled beneath a mountain of foods, and at home the cupboard doors were exhausted trying to stay shut and not let the contents tumble to the floor. There was enough food in the house to feed 50 people comfortably. I don’t remember the moment when I stood back and thought: “It’s just ONE DAY. What on earth are we thinking?”
Some years ago I used to volunteer at a class for French people learning to speak English, and they asked me about a typical English Christmas meal.
First there would be soup – maybe asparagus – or a seafood cocktail, followed by the turkey which would contain two types of stuffing, one front and one rear; roast and creamed potatoes; bacon rolls; roast parsnips; carrots; peas; chipolata sausages; bread sauce; cranberry sauce; gravy; chestnuts, peas and brussels sprouts. Possibly there would also be roast beef for those who didn’t like turkey, in which case there would be mustard and horseradish sauce.
ALL of that? they gasped. All of that on one plate?
Then I explained about the Christmas pudding, with brandy butter and/or cream, and the mince pies to follow.
Pouf! they said, you wouldn’t want to eat again for another week!
But no, I said. After that we retire to the comfy chairs and crack nuts, and eat liqueurs and petits fours.
They shook their heads sadly.
Later, I continued, it’s time for Christmas cake.
Like a buche de Noël? they asked, politely.
Ah no, it’s more like the Christmas pudding and mince pies. Lots of dried fruits, and covered in marzipan and icing. With little silver balls and sprigs of holly and a red ribbon tied round it.
One of the ladies, bolder than the others, asked if I was having a joke at their expense. I assured her that I wasn’t, and began to explain about the ham salad for supper. Mais non! they cried, ça suffit!
French people generally don’t set out to eat themselves to death. Or do they?
However you spend your Christmas, whatever you eat, have a very happy day.
In case you are wondering what we’ll be eating on Christmas day, you’ll find us at the Chinese restaurant. That’s what makes us happy. 🙂
Do what makes YOU happy; leave others to do what makes THEM happy. Simples.