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La Bûche de Noël

Wine and Lentils - Santa's Favorite Dish!

Wine and Lentils - Santa's Favorite!

It can sometimes be difficult living between cultures during the holidays.  To give a good example, in the southern part of France (La Provence), Santa apparently delivers the presents on a donkey.  Instead of cookies and milk, he is entitled to a large glass of red wine and his faithful pack animal will munch on some home-grown lentils (that your young children have been growing at school).  For Easter, the eggs are delivered by poetic, flying bells rather than our faithful little Easter Bunny.  And don’t get me started on the Tooth Fairy (which incidentally is replaced by a small mouse that does not even have a name)!


Oysters - always make sure they squirm!

Oysters - make sure they squirm!

Holiday culinary traditions are also very different.  Despite having one of the most diverse food cultures in the world, it seems like almost everyone in France is required to start off Christmas dinner by serving “foie gras” (fatted duck liver) and oysters.  Although it may sound strange to Americans, eating exquisite foie gras with a good white wine is one of the most wonderful tasting experiences imaginable!  Concerning the oysters, every year I try a few of them, but I have yet to attain the state of gastronomical ecstasy of my French friends.  To me, oysters still taste as if you’re drinking a cup of seawater with sand in it - not to mention that you are eating something that is raw and still alive!  I was shown that squirting lemon juice on an open oyster is an easy way to test their vitality.  If the edges contract inwards, then it means they are alive and kicking!  Just remember to chew them really well because apparently it brings out the taste…

La Bûche de Noël

La Bûche de Noël

The Christmas main courses vary according to different tastes, but dessert is almost universally a long, rolled cream cake known as “La Bûche de Noël” (which literally means “log” in English).  It is at this point in the meal that the traditional French family dispute tends to break out because, not only has everyone been sitting at the table for five hours drinking lots of wine and sharing in sometimes strained conversation, but it’s also the last chance to vent on any simmering issues with a captive audience.

During the holiday season, towns and villages also host innumerable outdoor “Marchés de Noël” (Christmas Markets) with beautiful lights, music, livestock, children’s games and stands selling gifts, food, hot chocolate and spiced red wine (my favorite!).  Villages also have their unique traditions, such as Lucéram1 with over 400 different manger scenes tucked away in every available nook and cranny of the winding streets.

A Very Elaborate "Crèche de Noël"

A Very Elaborate "Crèche de Noël"

There is one more small tradition that I’m sure all Americans will appreciate.  The French do not send Christmas cards!  Not only does everyone have enough on their plate preparing elaborate holiday meals, buying presents and everything else the season requires, it is also tempting fate to send a holiday greeting before you’ve actually survived until midnight on December 31st2.  Instead, after successfully waking up on January 1st and recovering from all of the end of the year partying, everyone will spend the rest of the month leisurely mailing out ”Happy New Year” cards.  Incidentally, this is also why the French will rarely celebrate a birthday until on or after the actual birth date. 

And now, with only a few hours remaining, I will throw caution to the wind and wish all of you a very happy and healthy 2009!

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  1. A small mountain village located in the pre-alps of Nice []
  2. The night of December 31st is frequently referred to as the “Saint Sylvestre” in French media []

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