Vive la difference!

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.



Something alarming about his legs

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?


La Grande Bouffe

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. 🙂

Card 2015.jpg


Do what makes YOU happy; leave others to do what makes THEM happy. Simples.





18 thoughts on “Vive la difference!

  1. I like your philosophy! I was disappointed when we first moved to France and felt homesick at Christmas. Now things have evened out – there is more Christmas in France and more French in me! Bonnes fêtes!

  2. When I was first in France the club dinners at New Year were still of the thirteen courses with a wine for every course variety….that declined over the years as the old boys died off and the local caffs closed down their big dining rooms.

    Sunday lunch with friends was still an all day affair…aperitifs, four courses, home made liqueurs, followed by a walk round the village or the country lanes,often stopping in at another house for tourteau fromager and a glass of pineau before returning to take a plate of soup made from the poultry roasted for lunch followed by salad and cheese.

    Christmas Eve dinners followed the Sunday lunch pattern..and Christmas Day was the time to walk round and visit friends…

    We didn’t make a fuss of Christmas when I was a child – I think it wasn’t yet a public holiday in Scotland at that time – but when in England used to go to Uncle Roy’s house for Boxing Day where things were exactly as you describe.

    Our area in France went in for Christmas decorations in a big way…not the councils, but private houses. I used them as navigation aids for visitors: when you see a windmill with turning sails…turn left. left again at the popping champagne cork….

    Just depends where you live and who you meet, I suppose.

  3. There are a few houses locally that seem to have gone OTT with the Xmas lights – reindeer, windmills, snowmen, elves, sleighs, trees, holly, bells, and dear old Santa. Ho, ho, ho.

    We’ve spent New Year’s Eve at French friends, and although there were many courses and accompanying bottles, they were in manageable portions and fairly light, and we came away feeling deliciously sated rather than stuffed to the gunwales. .

    What about Costa Rica – how is it celebrated there?

  4. And we do all that, AND in the heat of summer! Actually, I don’t think we ever had quite that much, even as a child when things were a lot more traditional. But it’s far and away the major celebration of the year and everyone spends far too much in the lead up. This year we’re having lamb for Christmas Dinner – yes, at lunchtime -,but cooked by my brother in law on the barbecue at the beach!

    • Kenyan Christmases were the same. Roast turkey and all the trimmings followed by the sacks of dried fruits in various guises just did not work at 75F. 🙂

      Enjoy your lamb barbie and have a great day, Alison. x

  5. I shall lift my glass and wish you happy chin-chin-chinky on the day. As for me …. I’m here in the Cantal with hub and youngest bratlette, dog and no plans. Which is just what I want after so many years of military planning of Christmas for the four kinder when they were growing and growing and seemingly ALWAYS bringing a herd of waifs and strays to the house just in time for me to throw together odd stockings and stretch the stuffing a bit further. A change is as good as ….

  6. Susie, I really, really enjoyed this piece. Such a wonderful story, and told so well! Were that I were in England for Christmas. Merry, merry! Bob


  7. So pleased you mentioned “La Grande Bouffe” Susie, a dark humoured masterpiece from the golden age of French cinema that too few English speakers are aware of.

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