Tag Archives: #christmas

A Quiet Christmas in France

It’s Christmas! It’s the first year that DD has really grasped the concept and for the last two weeks she’s talked of little else than Père Noël (Father Christmas) – when will he come, how does he get in, will she hear or see him, etc. It’s wonderful.

This time last year we were crammed into a tiny gite that was barely habitable during the winter. In hindsight we were stupid to stay there at all. DD had only started at the school a few weeks before so although we went along to the Fête de Noël (a band and a buvette) and the party for the children (lots of cake and an incredibly tedious story teller!) our language skills weren’t all that and it was difficult to know what was going on. We didn’t really have the internet and we weren’t feeling all that Christmassy. Plus the weather was better.

This year we’re much more settled into daily life – and with worse weather it somehow feels more like Christmas. Maybe that’s how it will always be for the Brit abroad at this time of year. Christmas just doesn’t happen here like in the UK, not out here in the sticks anyway. Yes, there’s a Christmas aisle at the supermarche, but it’s nothing like the barrage of festivity that you get in the UK. If you go to a Christmas market of course, Christmas is on, obviously, but otherwise, apart from the appearance of the Christmas markets, the brass bands that play there, there’s not much to know it was Christmas. It’s quite nice. I get the impression that Christmas here is much less about shopping and more about spending time with family and friends. I may be wrong, but I’m not feeling any of that sense of pressure to spend, to shop, to provide, that I used to get in England. And because we generally have less to do anyway we’ve been able to make time (and in doing so, save money) making presents and cards when maybe in the UK we’d have just bought them without thinking so much. I made mince pies for the teachers and then, because I couldn’t find a way to package them (or anything to package them in that didn’t cost a bomb) we made some pretty gift boxes using some fabulous card and the instructions on this other blog. They came our really well! Likewise, cards. A charity pack of five cards was going to cost 8 euros, so we made those too.

Handmade Gift Boxes

As far as lunch goes, we’re staying at home, cooking a chicken big enough to feed the four of us, going out for a walk while it cooks, then curling up by the fire to watch a film. Simple. And no Christmas TV, which is the scourge of Christmases at my parent’s house! James took DD to the park while DS slept and I managed to get everything wrapped and ready. That worked really well, much better than leaving it to the last minute then sitting up until 1am, trying to stealth wrap, because DD won’t go to sleep – which is what happened last year. We’re ready!

So that’s the practicalities.

For the children I’m trying to keep presents to a minimum, following the rhyme:

Something you need, Something to read,
Something to wear, Something to share.

This is a bit of a get out when it comes to Christmas as it means we are mostly buying things that would be bought and provided anyway. When I first heard this rhyme, it was:

Something you want, something to wear,
Something to read, something you need.

But then what would Santa bring? So I’ve outsourced the Something You Want to Santa, who they’ve been told brings only one present. That works fine. I like the idea of them having a shared present. I like that they’re not expecting Santa to fill the house to the rooftop with everything they want (DD has quite a list!) Otherwise we buy something they want and then Santa brings something else on top. That’s just too many presents in terms of both expense and clutter. 

Then there’s a stocking each, of which the contents looks like this:

  • A handful of nuts and a mandarin (satsuma)
  • A few chocolate coins
  • A Schleich animal
  • A tube of bubbles
  • Some socks and gloves
  • A new lunch box (for DD) and a harmonica (for DS)

I had planned to put a tub of Playdoh or something crafty in each one too but I ran out of time. I think they have enough stuff anyway so am happy that I didn’t manage to get more.

They also get new pyjamas. I would have given them those this evening, by way of encouraging them into bed, but DS had been running a temperature for the last two nights so sending him to bed in super-fluffy winter jammies was not the best idea! Luckily DD didn’t need any encouraging. They can have them tomorrow instead.

On the festivities front, DD has been learning some French Christmas songs at school so we’ve been listening to them on Spotify so she can teach us and so we can learn a few more. Our favourite album (of the weekend, at least) is French Christmas Carols (The Best Christmas Songs) by the French Young Singers.

Our top three songs, which coincidentally are the ones DD has been learning at school to perform at last Sunday’s Fête de Noël last Sunday afternoon – are:

It’s really fun trying to sing along and to learn the lyrics of these new songs. Even if the tune is familiar because the language moves differently, they’re not so easy to sing!

It’s interesting just how different the songs are despite having identical tunes. For example, vive le vent, which is sung to the tune of Jingle Bells (learn the lyrics here), is all about the wind and the weather – no bells or reindeer anywhere! I suppose the other way around the French will be surprised to know that we don’t have sing about the wind in our version 🙂 Most of the traditional English carols and Christmas songs have French equivalents – so there are many to learn. As far as that one goes, I rather like the French version: it’s romantic than. I like the idea of generations connected by memories carried on the winter wind.

And with that thought it’s time for bed. Night night. And Joyeux Noël !

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Our first Christmas in France

While we’re in no way religious, Christmas has always been a special holiday for me. I think it goes back to my University years, when I looked forward to coming home, meeting up with old school friends who had gone our separate ways and also, of course, reconnecting with family. Since settling down the draw back to “home” dimished, as we took it in turns to spend time with each other’s family, or friends, or just to have a quiet time together. Now, with two children in tow and DD of an age where Christmas is meaningful, it feels even more like the right time to just hang out at home together rather than getting sucked in to the existing Christmas traditions our parents initiated. What do I mean by that? Well, a downside of Christmas for me was always the way it happened the same way every year, at my parent’s house at least, and always centred around food and TV. You could call it gluttony but that’s in part due to the fact that my Mum always stocks up her three fridges (yes, she has three – albeit one that is only switched on over Christmas) as though we’re home for 3  weeks from Uni rather than just passing through over 2 or 3 days. It always felt like we just got together to eat and watch TV and since James and I aren’t really TV watchers there was never anything appealing about the Eastenders/Casualty/Coronation Street/*[insert name of other regular TV show] Christmas special, or any TV, really. We would sit around eating and pretending to laugh along while the fans in the room tried to fill us in on what had happened since we last watched any of the shows. The only thing worse than soaps is someone trying to bring you up to speed on everything that’s happened since you last watched the programme in question, particularly when you last watched it the best part of 20 years ago!

Then there’s the consumerism of it all. My parents go into overdrive when it comes to presents and I know, looking back, that I was pretty greedy and ungrateful. I have memories of ripping paper off with heady abandon, going for quantity over quality, with Christmas presents done and dusted by 7am after some heavy-duty trading with my sister over this and that. We had so many presents – a huge sack plus a stocking; it was too much. Since DD arrived, we’ve tried hard to keep her away from shops in general, supermarkets in particular (in the UK, anyway) and have restricted screen time to movies on DVD, so she’s rarely exposed to advertising, which helps alot and means when asked what she would like she is usually pretty individual in her choices. You won’t find Peppa Pig here, thank goodness!

And so it was we had our first Christmas in France. What a contrast to “home”! Honestly, while there are lights in the towns and decorated trees around, the place is so un-Christmassy it almost passed us by. We did the last of the Christmas shopping (all the food and presents for the littlies) on the 23rd, didn’t do much at all on the 24th other than enjoy a walk have lunch in the sunshine on the terrace – unthinkable in the UK at this time of year! – and had a very mellow and relaxing day on the day itself.

It was interesting to spend Christmas with DD this year as it’s the first year she’s had any idea about Father Christmas. In the run up we listened to her Christmas CD of stories and songs, a gift from my parents two years ago, at least 5 times each day, so you could say she was very much in the mood! On the night itself she couldn’t sleep, wanting to watch him making his way around the world courtesy of Norad, and when she finally did I wondered what time she’d wake, as I still remember waking excitedly at about 5am then ripping all my present open. At it was she slept until a reasonable 8am and her first thought was not about presents. If anything it was me willing her to see the pile or presents we’d sneaked in the night before. I was impressed by her restraint but also a little worried. I felt like grabbing her by the shoulders and yelling, “It’s Christmas!! Where are your presents!?!?!” DS, bless him, lay there snorning his little face off for at least another hour after DD woke up but was eventually woken by his sister’s excited squeals. Not long after James was persuaded to emerge from his duvet and as soon as the fire was lit and the first cup of coffee had been sipped, present opening began.

With fairly strict limits in place for Christmas purchases* we had that part of Christmas over by 9.10am. Then it was time to Facetime my parents., who were just having their breakfast, getting ready to travel down to my sister’s for Christmas lunch there. Next, breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast with more coffee for us (we drank our bottle of fizz the previous night and were feeling a little the worse for wear!), clearing up, and we were heading into 11am. Then it was time for DS’s nap – now overdue by an hour – so James played with DD while I ordered just-in-time Amazon vouchers for my nephews. By the time DS woke up it was getting on for lunch time. I remember thinking how nice it was that we weren’t rushing around anywhere, expected here or there or even expecting anyone round, just huddled in our little home with the fire burning, with no pressure, no excess.

Lunch was similarly low-key. I can’t even remember what we had. Fish finger sandwiches, perhaps? We had some ice-cream for pudding – a Christmas treat shared early in the day to ensure DD could run it all off by bedtime – then it was nap time again. But DD was so excited there was no way she could nap so we got ourselves organised and, since the sun had come out, headed out for a walk.

By the time we got back it was starting to cool down outside so we stoked up the fire and curled up with DD’s new DVD to kill the time until dinner. There was no way I was going to go to the bother of making a full on Christmas dinner for two small children who couldn’t have cared less and James, who had requested beans on toast (er, no) so we had homemade chicken kievs – one of my favourite meals – timed nicely to coincide with the end of the movie, then showers for the littlies and bed. DD hadn’t napped so she was in bed at a sensible time for a change leaving us to reflect on our first Christmas as a foursome. I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of traditions we’ll end up creating for ourselves, ones that our children will come to expect as they grow older. Going for a walk is something James and I have always done when it’s just been the two of us for Christmas, and I like eating a simple, fuss-free meal later in the day. Maybe that’ll be our thing? It was also nice too huddle round the fire, watching a film together, as well letting both littlies have time and space just to enjoy their new toys. Who knows what we’ll do next year – or where we’ll be but this Christmas was just right for us right now.

Merry Christmas, everyone! xx

* For DD and now DS we have a “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” policy plus a small stocking and a single gift from Santa each, as much to keep our spending in check as keep DD’s expectations in check.