A Very Last–Minute French Christmas

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Rudolph in Ottawa, December 2013

Rudolph in Ottawa, December 2013

“What do French eat at Christmas?”

My stomach is growling and I am focused on chopping  白菜, distracted by Mark who is trying—again— to open the cupboard and dig into the garbage can. “I remember eating oysters,” I reply. “Foie gras on toast too. And cheese.”

Pregnant pause. I turned around just in time to see Feng making a face. I know this face. It’s the “WTF-is-wrong-with-you-people-eating-weird-food” face.

“No no no! Meat, French eat meat. Lots of meat, well cooked, and no raw egg on the side” I hastily correct. “And ice cream for dessert. You’ll love it,” I promise, managing to sound convincing enough.

I have to sound convincing. I ain’t flying alone with a dragon toddler.

See, I am a bit of a masochist. For instance, I spent twelve years of my life learning Mandarin and I even took 文言, ancient Chinese, that no one ever uses. I chose to live in Canada even though I hate the cold. I did hot yoga several times a week until a few days before having Mark. I traveled several times when pregnant. I took a huge pay cut and left a permanent position to be a freelancer weeks before getting pregnant (and subsequently was ineligible for mat’ leave). I took the train from Sydney to Perth there and back. I went to the most dangerous city in the world.

See a pattern here? I am a masochist.

But I have always refused to fly “home” for Christmas. Because I ain’t going to Europe during the crazy holiday season, in the middle of the winter, just to eat a freaking bûche de Noël.

As everybody knows, when you have a kid, you lose neurons, time and common sense. That is my excuse for booking a last-minute trip to France.

We are heading to Nantes for 12 days. Let’s just say I was too cheap to buy presents to my family—this year, I am simply offering Mark.

My last Christmas in France was in 2002. I left to New Zealand on December 31 (cheap ticket!) and spent Christmas my family. After that, I was either traveling with Feng either in Canada. I am not religious and I am not big on Christmas—or any holiday, for that matters. Feng isn’t either, since of course he has never waited for Santa Claus growing up in China.

Last year, Christmas was a bit of a disaster. We had several bad snowstorms in a row, Mark wasn’t sleeping much (he was only two and half months) and was constantly cranky. Feng hurt his back shoveling snow and Christmas dinner with my in-laws consisted of a bunch of eclectic made-in-a-hurry dishes we wolfed down, taking turns to hold Mark.

Fuck that. I didn’t want a repeat. And I badly need a break, I am completely burnt-out.

So we started looking for plane tickets—anything affordable that would get us to Europe without several ten-hour long stopovers in the U.S. Turned out to be just as hard as expected. There were tons of flights available but tickets were expensive and the few cheap flights invariably and inexplicably involved going through Detroit. I mean, I know Mark loves taking his shoes off, but if I can avoid dealing with the TSA on my way to Europe…

Eventually, we settled for a Ottawa-Toronto-Paris Air Canada flight (and a connecting Paris-Nantes bought separately) and spent some Aeroplan points.

I called my parents who weren’t expecting us. Of course, they were overjoyed. I told Mark we were going to see the Père noël. He ran back to the garbage can. This kid is a rebel. Oh well.

France, here we come again!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

22 Comments

  1. Wow, that’s nice your husband agreed to come back with you.

    I tried hard to convince my husband to go back to Malaysia for Chinese New Year next year, he didn’t want to mainly because he doesn’t have enough vacation. I wanted to go back with my daughter but he said nobody in France would leave their husband alone for such a long time. We are not even winter yet but I’m so eager to go to somewhere hot.

    • We are both freelancers so we can work around our schedules. Plus he loves traveling as much as I do!

      I understand that you want to go to Malaysia once in a while. It’s a lovely country too… I fell in love with it when I was there! Where about did you live? Maybe you could take your daughter for a while and your husband could come join you for a week or so? I know, tickets are expensive…

  2. How exciting! I’m sure this is a better gift than your family than the odd crap we feel obligated to buy for each other every year.

    I too don’t like going home for Christmas. I’m perfectly happy to spend it with my French family here. I love foie gras but I don’t eat oysters…

  3. My Christmas memories of Canada also became very hazy. The last one I had there was in the year 2000 before I decided (or my husband decided) that we would spent Christmas in Canada last year (your nightmare Christmas was actually our dream). I hesitated, not only because of the ticket prices, but also because I had all these memories of what it was like and I didn’t want to go and be disappointed because so many years had passed and things were different. But it was great! After all those years of oysters and foie gras (yum, yum for me!), I relished reliving many of my family’s traditions. No, it wasn’t entirely the same, but in some ways it was even better than going in the summer because my siblings and father were off from work and I got to spend so much time with them (something that would not happen in the summer as my father works in construction). That, coupled with the fact that it snowed (those blizzards you talked about were what were hoping for after so many hit and miss green Christmases in Europe), meant I had one of the best Christmases ever. The fact that it snowed even meant that we spent more time indoors together.

    I am sure that there are advantages for a winter trip for you too. Just think about it, it’s cold so you can justify eating all those pastries and bread! And maybe you are sick of having a white Christmas. Here’s your chance for a green one! I also used the occasion to surprise a couple of friends. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I rang their doorbells! And what about the Christmas markets? Sure, they are touristy, but I always love seeing the lights. How about suggesting pintade with marrons (they’re not in season anymore, but we don’t mind the canned ones) to your family? I’ve seen French people eat that for Christmas and I think Canadians would like that.

    Have a good trip back to France.

  4. Have a good trip! I wish Nantes were closer, so we could meet up for a coffee 🙂

    I’m spending Xmas in France this year…just Max and I (as he’s working Xmas Eve and Day). I’m going to try and make a traditional turkey dinner (and I even have some Ocean Spray Cranberry sauce in the can!). Max doesn’t like Christmas very much, and so we are just going to pretend it isn’t really happening this year (giant turkey dinner aside, though).

    Safe travels!

  5. Yay for going home for Christmas – me too! although I won’t be taking a baby with me and my flight will be shorter! I think in future, I would prefer to fly when flights are cheaper too, but hey ho – an expat’s gotta do what an expat’s gotta do!

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  7. I used to travel at Christmastime but have avoided it in recent years — such an expensive hassle — but the few times I’ve done it while living in Toronto was worth it. By the time Christmas rolled around, I really needed the ESCAPE. I’m sure Ottawa isn’t any different in that respect.

    Enjoy the escape!

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