As we head into the second week of December, and the rain is strongly falling outside, I find it hard to imagine that Christmas is just around the corner. This holiday is certainly celebrated in a very different manner here than in North America. The stores have set up their Christmas wares, which take up a mere aisle, and a small aisle at that. There are numerous chocolate and wine packages, designed especially for Christmas. And children’s toys and books overflow into the aisles. I have not heard a single Christmas carol on the store’s PA system, and I have not seen a flake of snow. I am not holding my breath for the latter!
Christmas trees are now for sale in the parking lots of the various grocery stores. They sell sapins, or fir trees only. I will miss the big beautiful pine tree that we have decorated the past couple of years. The trees for sale here are very short, about 5 feet tall at the most. It will seem tiny compared to the 10 plus foot trees that we put up in Calgary.
The city centre is illuminated with thousands of lights that are strung across the streets in various patterns. Pau must be a shining beacon seen from space at night. The excessive use of lights is contradictory for such an energy conscious population. It is quite beautiful, though. I heard that the lights illuminating the Champs Elysees in Paris this year are LED, giving the street a blue glow.
So far the French Christmas appears much less commercial than the North American holiday, certainly an improvement. And we are told that the week between Christmas and the New Year is all about family. And the centre of attention for the family this week is food. Not surprising for the French! We are starting to see the Christmas treats fill the markets and grocery stores. The list of cherished items is much longer than I will pretend to know, but here are some of the highlights: the famed Buche de Noel. This delectable cake, shaped like a log comes in various flavours. They are pre-ordered at one’s favourite patisserie, and picked up on Christmas morning along with the day’s supply of bread. I will order our Buche next week. Next are the rich treats that preclude Christmas supper. These include foie gras, ris de veau (sweetbreads), and oysters. This is oyster season, and they are for sale everywhere. And goes best with oysters? Champagne, of course. The French do not require a special occasion to drink Champagne. They believe that this wine should be enjoyed frequently, a belief that I also support. But consumption certainly increases during the holiday season. Chestnuts are in season, and outdoor roasting stalls are set up around town. The smell is soothing, and I can’t help but hum the carol, “chestnuts roasting by an open fire” as I walk by. Chestnuts are also used to prepare to French version of stuffing for Christmas supper. However they do not accompany a turkey, which the French consider flavourless and dry, but a chapon. These male chickens (roosters) are castrated at a young age, and apparently offer very tender and tasty meat when roasted. It will be interesting to try.
Fortunately, we will be spending this holiday season with family. We will have a mixed nation experience, as we listen to our Christmas CDs, watch North American Christmas television classics, and incorporate some French traditions.