The Winter Holiday Season is finally upon us! And although this year will be rather different, I can’t wait to share my Christmas traditions with you.
This is not my first French rodeo. After ten years in France this will actually be the third Christmas I have spent in the city of lights. Of course, we all know that this year is going to be a little different (understatement of the century), so I’m not going to talk about this year. I’m going to tell you about how I would usually spend Christmas here, because I want to show you what Paris is really like in the winter season.
1. The Christmas Decorations in the City
After work is done and dusted for the year, my favourite thing to do in the days leading up to Christmas is to check out all the decorations and the window displays around the city. The three department stores that are famous for their store windows are:
Every year I love to visit these stores and discover their chosen Christmas theme. Galeries Lafayette is also famous for its tree which changes every year and is an absolute must-see. I haven’t seen it in person yet, but as soon as the winter holidays begin, I plan to visit it.
Last year Galeries Lafayette even went so far as creating a free ice skating rink on the roof. I was lucky enough to test it out with some other bloggers before the store officially opened. It was a fantastic experience and I hope they’ll do it again next year!
2. The French Christmas Dinner
I absolutely love to have Christmas dinner in France at my in-laws. Why? Because of all the delicious French food of course!
Traditionally in France you have a dinner on Christmas Eve and a dinner on Christmas Day. The first year I stayed in France for Christmas I presumed the dinner on the 24th would be some kind of apéro-dinatoire affair. Something small, certainly not what it actually was – a full sized Christmas dinner. You also traditionally open a few presents on Christmas eve, which surprised me as we don’t do this in England. We go to the pub instead!
On Christmas Eve that year, we had oysters and snails to start, Pork tenderloin with chestnuts and vegetables as a main and a chocolate ice cream log for dessert. I never ate oysters or snails at Christmas before living here, and funnily enough I’d never even had chestnuts, but now I cannot live without them. They go so well with a roast dinner!
On Christmas Day of the same year, we started all over again, but this time with more courses. My mother-in-law really knows how to put on a spread.
Et le dîner commence…
- We begin with hors d’oeuvres for us to eat with our apéro (very important, must wake up the taste buds). I always go for a martini rouge with ice and we usually have things like dates wrapped in bacon, mini savoury pastries, olives and gougeres (pastry cheese puffs), to name just a few…
- Starters – smoked salmon with cream and chive dip and foie gras with toast, fig jam and sea salt
- Main – very similar to the UK, the French eat Turkey with potatoes and lots of different vegetables. The biggest difference is the potatoes are not roasted and they don’t have gravy. They just use the meat juices as sauce (although I always bring my own gravy now)!
- Cheese course – yes, I am still getting used to this, even after living here for 10 years. The cheese course comes BEFORE the dessert course in France. In our house, it includes about 7-8 different types of cheeses, and of course, it’s served with fresh baguette and NO butter, butter with your bread and cheese is blasphemy in France.
- Dessert – There are always at least 3 desserts, if not more. Traditionally this includes a Bûche de Noël (a Yule log), one made from ice cream and one made from cake. I have also managed to introduce Christmas pudding with custard into our tradition (my French family absolutely love it) but this is not a common dessert in France.
- Coffee, digestifs and more sweets – Last but not least, the French serve coffee with more sweets; chocolates and chocolate coated nuts and the brandy usually appears at this part of the meal to finish us all off.
What I love about Christmas day here is that my French family take constant breaks during the various courses to open gifts. I guess it’s because we need it with SIX courses, but you also feel like you’ve been opening presents ALL DAY LONG. It really makes the day feel special, and gives you the opportunity to enjoy and be grateful for everything you receive.
3. Visiting Disneyland Paris
Every December I visit Disneyland Paris. I’m an annual passholder and Christmas is my absolute favourite time to go. I usually take a day of mid-week and I go and enjoy all the rides, without the large queues! Disneyland Paris’ decorations include a giant sparkly tree, where the special Christmas show takes place in an evening. It even snows when you are walking down main street! It could not be more magical.
Top secret tip – go and check out the Disney hotels, you can visit the lobby area even if you are not a guest in the hotel, and they have some of the most gorgeous decorations inside!
4. Visiting the Christmas Markets
Whether it’s the small market in Vincennes, or a larger market in Lille, I adore visiting all of the different Christmas markets France has to offer. As well as the traditional crepe and churros stands, the markets offer artisanal products which are a lovely change from buying in big stores. My favourite thing that I had last year with my parents were some pets de nonnes. Literally translated this means nun’s farts. This dessert, which originates in France, look like small pieces of donut that are light, fluffy and covered in sugar. They always make me laugh when I see them for sale at Christmas time and they are so tasty. My mouth is watering even thinking about them (photo below)!
So there you have it, a glimpse into some of the things we do in France during the Winter season. For me, it’s about eating good food, drinking good wine, spreading some Christmas joy and most of all, spending time with my family and friends. I know this year won’t be easy for a lot of us who are separated from our families, but just remember all the things that France has to offer and how grateful we are going to be when we can say goodbye to the year 2020 and start moving forward in 2021.
Happy Holidays Everyone!
I wrote this article as part of the linky for bloggers organized by the blog Expat in France. Feel free to check it out, you will find lots of useful advice about living in France, navigating French red tape and understanding French culture better.