The officer handed me my passport and said something that I didn’t understand.
The following day, everybody across town was saying the same words with a big nice smile. That’s how I guessed that everyone was wishing everyone “Happy Holidays.”
But why “holidays?”
Were all Americans taking a vacation during the fêtes de fin d’année?
In fact, most were staying home, enjoying the holidays.
So my husband and I did the same.
In fact it was our very first Christmas as a family.
The year before we had invited his and my family in our Parisian apartment and our baby wasn’t born yet.
Since my husband and I grew up in France we shared a common culture but it didn’t mean that we celebrated Christmas in the exact same way.
At his home le Père Noël arrived on Christmas Eve while everyone was having dinner.
At my home le Père Noël climbed down the chimney the night before Christmas.
At my home we never opened our gifts on Christmas Eve.
At his home they did.
At my home we always went to midnight mass.
At his home they didn’t.
At my home we never ate boudin blanc (white blood sausage.)
At his home they did.
But there were things that we both did.
We arranged our nicest pair of shoes under the tree where le Père Noël dropped the gifts.
We didn’t leave food for le Père Noël and his reindeer.
Since we were not living in France anymore, since our parents were far away and wouldn’t be offended by our Made in the USA French Noël, we were free to create our own rituals. Although a little homesick there was also something very liberating to be on our own.
So in complete agreement we decided that:
We would still call Santa le Père Noël.
We would still put our shoes under the tree but hang socks, too.
We would open one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning.
We would skip midnight mass. There were as many churches in the US as cafés in France and we had no idea where to go.
We would try for a typical French Christmas, but back in the 90s there wasn’t much true French food, even in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we started to mix and match, in the same way all immigrants do. With ingredients that sounded intriguing and food we recognized. Perfect melting pot.
We would leave cookies and milk for the reindeer and …wine for Santa. After all ours was very French and preferred a stronger drink to go on his long shift than a cup of milk.
Years passed and more children filled our home. Our family life changed, but some things never did.
We still follow the Christmas rituals that we created when this country wasn’t ours yet and when we felt free to improvise.
In the end, you see, anyone, even away from home, can make a new place home.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
And a special thought to you, who are away from the place that once was home and are creating your own rituals in the adoptive land.
P.S. I saw this little fellow all alone, late afternoon. Are you part of Santa’s team and where is Rudolph? I asked him. He looked at me before vanishing in the woods. I didn’t hear any bells, although I held my breath. Tomorrow I will leave a glass of milk, some cookies in a plate.
And a glass of wine, too.