Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas is almost here and I'm sure many of you out there would like to know how we prepare for the holidays here in France.
You don't?

Well, too bad. It's today's scheduled Blog Topic here at "Burkinamom in France".

So, with no further ado, here it is: Noël in France

First of all, you decorate the exterior of your home or apartment balcony with twinkling lights. This is a relatively new thing. When I lived in France 10 years ago, Christmas lights were hard to find and very, very expensive. Now they are ubiquitous and only very expensive. I don't know why they cost so much more here than in most of the world. They are exactly the same plastic ropes of lights that you buy at the Walmart back in the USA, but here they are quite pricey. (This is true of most things here and the fact certainly deserves its own post one day)..

You put up your lights as best you can. In some cases, this is not very well. I think this is because while in the USA or Canada you probably helped your dad put up the lights when you were a kid, here there is no inter-generational knowledge to be passed on. It's all new. A particularly inept display on one home in our village prompted Alexa to remark "I think they made their blind grandma put up the lights." Cruel, but apt.

Besides the lights, you MUST have your plastic Santa dangling on a rope from a window. Other bloggers living in France have also posted bemused ramblings puzzling over WHY these decorations are so popular. For some reason, hanging from a balcony or window on nearly every dwelling is a plastic Santa "climbing" a rope, presumably to get in and leave gifts. At least, that's probably the concept. In reality, the things tend to look kind of sad or scary. The sad ones seem like they are desperately scared of falling (Help meeeee!!! they seem to be silently screaming, kind of putting a damper on any festive holiday feelings.) . The scary, leering ones look like they are breaking into your home to sexually molest your cat.

So, now your creepy Santa is hanging out the window. You are ready to get your Christmas tree! And if you live in the French Alps, what better way to get a tree than to hike up into the hills above your home and chop one down? So, that's just what we did. JP and a couple of our kids bundled up and set off through the knee-deep snow to find the perfect tree.
Which they did.
Perfect for re-enacting touching scenes from A Charlie Brown Christmas, that is.

The branches were few and sparse and the whole thing was more of an S-shape, rather than the traditional triangular pine configuration that most people favor in a Christmas tree.

So, the wise person goes out and buys a nice tree (Go to Botanic. They have good ones. Very reasonably priced). After it's decorated , you then put up your Nativity scene. This goes under or at least very near to the tree. If you don't have a wooden stable for your figures, you can easily buy "rock paper"- a sort of textured thick brownish paper that can easily be crumpled up to create a nice looking cave for the Holy Family and their well-wishers. (helpful hint: use tape to anchor everything down and prevent tragic paper "earthquakes".) Don't forget to put baby Jesus aside in a safe place. He can't go in his manger until Christmas Day.(Another helpful hint: DON'T forget where you put Baby Jesus. This is awkward and disappointing for all involved)

Of course, you need to have some gifts to go under the tree. But here in France, people tend not to go overboard. As things are so expensive here, folks just don't have the same buying power and disposable income as they do in the USA.

But one thing they do spend a fortune on is the FOOD. It is the focus of both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations. Yes, the toy aisles are crowded, but not nearly as mobbed as the seafood counter where people line up to buy their smoked salmon, caviar, oysters, coquilles saint jacques and other necessities.

Not that this means that the typical French person kills themselves cooking up a storm on Christmas. Many people buy ready-made most of the dishes they will serve! This is quite a sensible approach, if somewhat expensive.
The supermarket advertisements in France right now are full of offers of "Christmas menus". In general, they offer a per-head price for a pre-prepared, three or four course holiday meal.
I have one flyer right here in front of me, so I can give you some specific examples. I find them facinating. It's so NOT what you eat on Christmas back in Nebraska (or Burkina):

Delicious Menu: Foie Gras (duck), Shrimp casserole, broccolli mousse, duck with chestnut and hazelnut sauce, potato puffs.
14.50 euros per person

Exquisite Menu: foie Gras, seafood cassrole with mushrooms, fish with hollandaise sauce, pasta and julienne vegetables, veal medallions with autumn sauce, bordeaux wine.
18.90 euros per person

Supreme Menu: Appetiser trio (salmon and seafood), Foie gras with apple and quince chutney, fish and scallops in vegetable sauce, Capon in suterne sauce with polenta and truffles, champagne
25,90 euros per person.

And these are just the menus offered by our local, completely non-elegant supermarket!
So, the house is decorated, the tree is up, the fridge is full of food and everyone is in a festive mood. Except for the cats. They look worried...


oreneta said...

We have the same freakish creepy Santas here...ohhh, I don't like them AT ALL. NEVER. The lights are also very expensive, though the very few who put them up do a good job of it. I loved putting up the lights with my Dad....

Bridget said...

Yeah, the Santa's diving down the chimney???? Yuck. Home invasion is never pretty. Dad's getting grandma tomorrow but we're going to keep her safely out of the path of any reindeer.

Beth said...

Good grief! I hadn't realised that the things had gotten into Spain as well!! It's a full-scale invasion! Lock up your cats!!

As for Grandma, thank goodness you guys are watching out for her!
For those of you unaware of the danger, hear the song here: