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White Christmas, by Michelle Schwartzbauer

White Christmas, by Michelle Schwartzbauer

I like Christmas. For me, it is the most magical time of the year. It represents the innocence of our childhood. There is a certain enjoyment that warms me and allows me to defy the cold outside. December puts me in a good mood.

In Paris, there is rarely snow for Christmas. I cannot even remember the last Christmas we had snow but when we do, it makes Christmas in Paris even more wonderful. We feel the magic of the holidays just walking the streets where many stores are decorated with lights and Christmas miniatures. Every year, the Galleries Lafayette Haussmann offers a sensational and magnificent Christmas tree. This year, it was composed of lights made by Swarovski — the sparkling lights changed from one to the next of the most magnificent of colors.

Nearly every family creates a Christmas tree that makes us feel that Christmas is coming. And almost every child has an Advent Calendar with chocolates or toys to count down the days left until Christmas Eve. It seems to make time pass more quickly. I love this tradition. Even when I grow up and have a place of my own, I will still have an advent calendar each December. It is enjoyable and I do not feel guilty eating the chocolate!

When I was little, my family would take a tour around my town to see the decorations on the houses. Some streets were very impressive. My favorite moment as a kid, though, was the morning of Christmas day. On Christmas Eve, I did not want to go to bed. And when I woke, I would rush down the stairs to discover what Santa had brought. Months before, I would look at all the toys in magazines for children. I loved looking over them. I marked all the toys I wanted. There were so many, perhaps too many. It did not matter if I did not receive all of them; I was excited to play with the ones I got.

At school, during the last days of class in December, several teachers would allow us a snack to celebrate the end of the year, so all the students brought something to eat — and there were no lessons. It is just for fun. Sometimes, games were organized. The principle would pick the name of a classmate to give a gift to a student. In lower school, children would draw Christmas cards for their parents, brothers and sisters, which were always very creative and amusing. There was a chorus and when Christmastime approached we learned holiday songs. I remember one year there was a presentation for parents and my class sang Jingle Bells.

Still, on every Christmas, I watch sweet Christmas movies snuggled on my couch in a corner near the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. It brings a little of joy and happiness.

I love thinking that there could be something true in Santa’s stories. One of my dreams is to go to Lapland for Christmas. I imagine Lapland is a place where we can really feel the spirit of Christmas.

I suppose that in many countries Christmas goes on the same way it does in France. What differentiates France from other countries is probably the tasty meals we eat for Christmas. Usually French people spend holidays with their family, but also with friends. Over the course of three days, we eat and drink too much. Dishes that can be found in most Christmas meals in France are Foie Gras, turkey or seafood. For dessert: Yule logs. Christmas without a Yule log is not a Christmas! There are homemade chocolate truffles, and champagne and white wines are traditions for Christmas.

Last year, I spent one week in Nürnberg during the Christmas holiday where I was hosted by a family who shared with me their typical German holiday. I liked it! We visited the lovely Christmas market several times. It was the largest Christmas market I had ever seen. There were many cute haunts, each with different specialties. Some sold Christmas ornaments for the tree, some sold gingerbread, and others mulled wine. It was the first time I had tried mulled wine, even thought we also can find it in French Christmas markets. It was a great drink to warm us from the cold. There were many lights throughout the city, and it was snowing. My first evening in Nürnberg was magical!

We went to another Christmas market in Regensburg to the castle of Thurn and Taxis where every year a romantic Christmas market is organized. It was smaller than the one in Nürnberg, but beautiful and charming. Cottages were set in the gardens of the castle selling traditional things like small houses made of pottery, jewels or vases. In Paris, there are Christmas markets in many different arrondissements. One of the most famous is the one in the Champs Elysées. Nevertheless, they are usually not as lovely as the one in Nürnberg.

My host family and I decorated the Christmas tree the day before Christmas. I do not know if this is the tradition in Germany, but it was different from France where French families usually create their tree in early December.

We went to a very small church on Christmas Eve. It was so pretty. In France, many people attend church on Christmas even if they do not go during the year. When we arrived home after services we ate a delicious dinner of smoked salmon and goose with a dish called Klöße, which are dumplings made of potato flour. For dessert there were little cakes with cinnamon.

After dinner, we watched famous movies in French and German, including my favorite, “Sissi Impératrice.” I do not know if “Sissi Impératrice” is known in America, but in France every little girl has seen it many times throughout her life. It is a fairytale about a princess in Vienna. I cannot count the number of times I have seen it. It seemed funny that even when I spent Christmas in Germany away from my home I still watched it.

If I could, I would celebrate every Christmas Eve in a little wooden chalet in the mountains, watching the snow falling through the windows. This is my dream. Christmas is here to make dreams come true, isn’t it?

Flor der Agopian was born in Clamart, a southwest suburb of Paris, where she grew up and lives today. She is in the final years of terminale, which is equivalent to the senior year of high school in the U.S., where she is preparing for her Baccalauréat at the Lycée Françoise Rabelais de Meudon. If accepted into the language program, Flore will study history, literature, and the culture of anglophone societies and will hopefully study abroad in the U.S. or Germany.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Fashion doll: Haute-Couture Barbie. French writer Laurence Haxaire and Barbara Redmond share their stories of Barbie® and how beyond the stereotypes of what Barbie® represents, the famous doll has also been a model for haute-couture style for girls and women all over the world.

French Hot Chocolate: Chocolat Chaud, by Barbara Redmond as she tells about a dazzling early 19th century French service placed on a table at the far end of a dark, yet luxurious, reception room in Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum exhibited as though prepared and waiting for guests. Which French woman should we invite?  Including a recipe for Parisian Hot Chocolate by David Lebovitz.

Foie Gras – Just Because! by French writer Laurence Haxaire who writes: even if foie gras is the star of holiday dinners at the end of the year, it is a traditional dish all year long. There are thousands of ways to serve foie gras: as hors d’oeuvre or entrées. Recipe included for La Terrine de Foie Gras aux Pommes d’Elké (Foie Gras with apples), Foie Gras à la Vapeur (Foie Gras marinated in salt, pepper and cognac, and steamed), and Foie Gras Poêllé (Foie Gras sautéed with a bit of sweet white wine).

Le Baisemain, a kiss of the hand, by Barbara Redmond who shares her story of the French-style kiss, considered by some out of fashion, and writes, “Gallantly, he bent down from the waist and reached for my right hand. He took my hand as though it were a fragile butterfly about to fly away. Poised, he raised it…” She wondered, was it the Chanel No.5 perfume?

French Candles: Bougies, by Barbara Redmond who writes about buying a package of bougies trouée (candle tapers with interior openings) for her holiday table and about the world of Cire Trudon and the pleasure of forgotten scents. Cire Trudon, founded in Paris in 1643, supplied candles to Marie Antoinette, Napoléon Bonaparte, and other European royals. Including tips on how to keep candles at their best: secrets from our French grandmothers…

Text copyright ©2013 Flore der Agopian. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2013 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2013 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com

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