I live in Paris and despite all the ornate lights, sparkling shops and delicately wrapped pressies it just doesn't feel that Christmassy. There is a natural reticence to go nuts, pump out the jingles and get into the spirit. The decorations are low-key, tasteful and heaven forbid that there is a cheesy Santa outside or flashing reindeer lights.
Yet a few hundreds miles away everyone has gone Christmas mad and not just before the 25th, probably from mid-November. I went back to London last week and was hit with a festive blast of red and green, utterly merry jollity. I stepped off the train into a simple Costa coffee shop and it could have been Christmas Eve. Frank Sinatra crooning, Stollen bites of cake Gingerbread lattes and baristas with Santa hats.
We all get nostalgic for our Christmas roots but there is something special about a British Christmas. Even my French husband has been lured to the other side, due to all our eccentric traditions and trimmings.
I have done a few Christmasses here and they are nice and all that, but a little well subdued. The Frenchies have their dinner on Christmas Eve which always seems the wrong way round. Then the children go to bed and wake up again at about 3am for presents. So Christmas Day for me is a bit of a let down.
Whereas for us Rosbifs everything is about Christmas Day. On the 24th we join Father Christmas with a mince pie and maybe a glass of mulled wine. Maybe a carol service to get into the spirit. Then for children bedtime knowing that when they wake up and they feel the end of their bed it will be laden with pressies. The excitement is electric and every creak is Father Christmas or scratch is Rudolf. Until the year my mum tripped in my room and said 'Sh@t' and woke me up.
It all means that the 25th has the most amazing energy and as soon as you open your eyes there is an incredible momentum, like being on a train hurtling through Christmas-ville.
Nothing beats waiting up to the smell of turkey in the oven and the vague backnote aroma of cloves. The stockings and sacks are then unloaded. We sit round and watch everyone open their presents over a glass of champers. My French husband couldn't believe how long it took but we savoured. Then around about the same time as the Queen's speech its turkey time. The table is groaning, the 12 apostle bowls filled with sweets and chocs and brightly coloured crackers. It isn't about the cooking or expensive wine it is the cheer on everyone's face as they wade through all the stuffings and condiments. My Dad loved Christmas so much and my most favourite memory of him is chomping methodically through the turkey leg. He always said the same thing "May you always celebrate Christmas and eat together in your own home."
The afternoon is also like a scene out of Love Actually with charades, bad board games and general silliness. I remember trying to play the 'traditional charades' as per the Brit tv show with Frenchies. They just didn't get the whole four words, first word, two syllables thing. They wanted to act out the whole film. I ended up looking like a Pernickety Brit.
The night is capped off with a TV special. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without one. Only Fools, Morecombe and Wise in times gone by. This year we cannot wait for Downton. Then more turkey, cold this time, with piccalilli and maybe some stilton and port.
All in all Christmas is such a jolly affair and it is a bit disappointing that over here in chic Paris it misses the fun mark. It is more about how beautifully elaborate the Buche is, how savoureux the foie gras is and how intellectual the apres diner discussion.
Each to their own I say.
Am sure us Brits could learn a thing or too on finer things in life. It's sometimes so funny to watch my Frenchie family's faces as they observe our idea of 'posh food' on TV. Frozen black forest gateau, sausage rolls and scotch eggs being the some classics. But the Froggies could also do with a dose of our party-itis. Love Actually, the ultimate Chrissie classic, says it all, family and friends, ups and downs, joy and madness but at the end it's always a hoot.
God bless Brit Chrimble.
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