I mean, feeling the Christmas Spirit shouldn't be too hard when the view out your window looks like this:
Oh, the French eat salmon, foie gras, escargot, shellfish, caviar, wine, turkey and drink champagne throughout their Christmas feast, but the mention of eggnog receives an instictive "beurk!"
"How could you possibly drink that?", my shocked students asked with disgusted disbelief.
"For the same reason you eat fatty goose liver and snails cooked in a garlic butter sauce: it's delicious."
I'm almost tempted to make some eggnog on my own, but knowing my patience when it comes to cooking eggs, I might just succeed in making a creamy, cinnamon-flavored egg soup instead. Mmm, yum...
Something didn't sound right. The music which I have grown up listening to was missing in the background. Over time, I've incorporated some French Christmas songs like Petit Papa Noel and Vive le Vent to my repetoire, but I still need to hear Brenda Lee belt out her rocking beat.
Luckily, this year, I brought a CD from the States to fill the gap. I spent the last couple of weeks in the school year teaching my high schoolers about Christmas in the States and played my music. We rocked out to Jingle Bell Rock and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.
I tell them how we like to hang stockings by the chimney and how bad kids, instead of being awarded with presents, receive a lump of coal in their stocking. The new vocabulary throws them off and their reaction is the same one I have become accustomed to seeing with most of English my lessons:
In unison, they serenade me with a glorious wave of comprehension.
At least I had the music, but something didn't look or smell right.
I inhaled deeply. The stark absence of a certain fragrence made its presence known. I glumly stared around my room. The boxes of of Christmas decorations that I had accumulated in two years caught my attention. Suddenly, it hit me. I knew what was missing: the perfume that comes from a Christmas tree!
I felt like such a dork. I had the ornaments but not the tree. What was I to do?
I went out and bought a Christmas Tree.
Last Christmas, with the help of my landlord's wife, Isabelle, I went outside and cut off a branch from a pine tree. I then strung it with the handful of Christmas trinkets I had purchased last year. Here's the proof:
That wasn't going to happen this year. With stubborn determination, I went to the closest Carrefour hypermarché and bought a mini Nordmann tree and a five euro strand of blinking white Christmas lights. I couldn't hide my excitement.
Then I realized that I had to haul all of that on the bus. And that I had to navigate my steps and try to keep my balance on a minefield of icy snow.
Once I got home, I made myself a strong mug of Colombian hot chocolate.
I would have made one for my roommate (who was busily cramming for an exam) as well, but she is highly lactose-intolerant. She did, however, brighten up my room by helping me decorate the tree.
While driving down the French autoroute, where we were occasionally
My hair became a helpless victim of the merciless winds.
Of course, you cannot be in the South of France and not do some sight-seeing. On my last day, Mimi, Alain and I braved the cloudy skies and visited La Garde and the port city of Toulon!
Posin' with the hills and my plum-colored beret!
This is a sculpture based on the plays Marius, Fanny et César by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. Toulon is at one point a setting in Pagnol's works.
The one Provançale tradition that I didn't do was the 13 desserts (probably because we ate quite enough food as it was). In France, Christmas dinner happens on Christmas Eve and the 13 desserts are eaten. I did however get a glimpse of what the 13 desserts were all about when on our way back to Dijon, we stopped for lunch at Alain's cousin's house. It was there that I got to have a piece of la Pogne!
After Christmas, French bakeries sell a type of almond-filling pie-pastry thing called la galette des rois, "roi" meaning "king." They are supposed to be eaten on the 6th of January to mark the passing of the 3 Wise Men. Of course, in modern-day secular France, this is just another excuse to eat something tasty with friends and family. The galette des rois functions as game: in its frangipane filling, the baker sticks in a little porcelain figurine called la fève (literally, the bean) and bakes the galette with it. In the tradition, the person who gets the slice of galette that has la fève is crowned the king, or the queen. This is especially exciting if you happen to be a child or an overly-excited American who still thinks like a child. The dubbed royalty then sports a fancy cardboard crown.
La Pogne is essentially the same concept as la galette des rois, complete with fève and cardboard crown, except instead of eating a pie-pastry type thing, one eats a large, donut-shaped brioche that is baked with dried fruits. I tried some last year, and I think that la Pogne is honestly one of the most awesome things I have EVER eaten. I was ready to have another slice this year.
After my little moment of joy, I went straight to my tree and added my Santon to the nativity scene under my tree and hung Mimi's gift on one of the branches.