The Highs and Lows of our Frosty Festivities

It was with some trepidation that we prepared for Christmas, knowing that we would be away from our families this year. In New Zealand, we usually visit at least two places on Christmas Day and stuff ourselves at both. From frenzied preparation the night before to carting presents and food to relatives houses (and the odd water fight) in our typical Kiwi christmas, this year was more relaxed and low-key. We kept it simple for lunch with a slow-cooked roast leg of New Zealand lamb with mint sauce (from the International aisle) with roast veges, then apple sponge and sorbet for dessert. This along with some champagne (bargain at 18 euros!) We missed our families and the normal traditions a lot but cooked, played with presents, ate and drank and went for a 9km walk to keep busy.

The children left their shoes out under the Christmas tree for Pere Noel (Father Christmas) to fill with presents. Master 6 started a discussion in his class at school before the end of term about what French children do at Christmas. He told me afterwards in an awestruck voice that one kid had blurted "le pere noel n'existe pas". The teacher then had to explain about the different cultures and religions and how some people celebrate Christmas and some don't. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall!

In France it is traditional to have a big feast on Christmas Eve. This used to be after midnight mass but is starting earlier these days. There is no set menu but it is slow food eaten over a period of hours and usually includes oysters, turkey and foie gras. Traditionally it also includes the Buche de Noel (yule log) for dessert which is a sponge roll with jam and cream covered in chocolate icing and decorated. I think this means that Christmas Day is a quiet affair, similar to our Boxing Day. We saw only a handful of families when we were out walking on this balmy 12 degree afternoon. Perhaps it is a day for recovering and wallowing inside in front of the fire, if not the barbecues, beers and back yards we are used to. The bakery over the road was open Christmas morning (people here must have fresh baguettes at all times!). The post office was back in business here the morning after Christmas. France seemed to be immediately looking forward to New Years celebrations and La Fete des Rois (Epiphany - January 6th).

Following is our list of highs and lows of our French festivities:


1. Christmas markets - atmosphere, crafts, hot food and drinks

2. Technology - it has been great to be able to see what everyone is up to on Facebook and Skype with family

3.Trees and lights - A lot of real fir trees were brought in and decorated all over the city. Because it is winter, it is actually dark enough for the children to see the lights at a reasonable hour too!

4. Winter - Decorations like tinsel, the Santas in their fur coats, mulled wine, even the comfort foods of this time of year make more sense in a winter Christmas.

5. Santa's navigation skills in finding our wee kiwi family on the other side of the world!

1. French postal system - the courier that pushed the buzzer but didn't stick around to deliver the presents on Xmas Eve sent from NZ (on Nov 29th!)

2. Xmas Card Hunt - we only found out recently that the French traditionally send cards for the New Year (instead of before Christmas) after much searching for packs of cards to send home

3. No Boxing Day Sales - didn't realize how much I loved those sweaty, pushy days of discounts

4. Winter - December has delivered fog, drizzly days and we are now moving into the frosty phase with overnight temperatures of -3 deg and highs of 5 to 10 deg. Hats, coats, gloves and scarves are a must!

6. Being away from Friends and Family - we miss you all.



"Always Winter and never Christmas; think of that!"
"How awful!" said Lucy

- CS Lewis, (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)

Overall, we had a lovely Christmas a quatre and think there are positives to both winter and summer Christmases. It has been a great experience and we want to bring aspects of our French festivities to future Christmases in Christchurch. Isn't that what travel is all about?

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