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A Very Last–Minute French Christmas

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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