A few weeks ago, I boarded a plane for Paris! Since my twin sister, Juliette, has been taking advanced ballet classes at the Paris Opera Ballet School, my family decided that it would be easier for me to fly home for the holiday season (versus all of them coming over to the United States). I honestly had no problem with that - this is actually the first year I've flown home for the holidays! I hadn't been in France since . . . since, well, never mind how long! Needless to say, I was SO EXCITED to finally get a chance to return to my hometown!
In France, we celebrate more on La Nuit de Noël, Christmas Eve, more than on Christmas Day. This year, both sets of my grandparents joined us (even my paternal grandparents from the Bourgogne region!). While our parents and maternal grandparents were busy preparing la Réveillon, our special Christmas Eve dinner, our paternal grandparents took Juliette and me out for a day of "window-licking." What is "window-licking," you might be asking? It's the literal English translation of faire du lèche vitrines, which means to window-shop! Most stores aren't open on Christmas Eve, but Juliette and I think that window shopping is just as fun - especially during the holiday season! Our grandparents took us over to le boulevard Haussmann, a wide tree-lined boulevard in the 8th and 9th arrondissements where world-famous department stores like Printemps and Galeries Lafayette are located. Just like the stores lining New York City's 5th Avenue, the stores on le boulevard Haussmann set up elaborate holiday window displays and adorn themselves with lots of festive lights. It was quite thrilling to link arms with Juliette and skip down the sidewalks, glancing up every now and then at the storefront windows and drooling over all of the designer clothes on display. When our feet got tired, our grandparents led us over to an open restaurant, where we ordered a mug of chocolat, hot chocolate. We lingered here for a while, telling our grandparents about life in the United States, Juliette's ballet classes, and simply our thoughts about current events. We don't get to see our paternal grandparents very often, though our maternal grandparents live right here in Paris. It was great to be able to catch up with them!
After our day of window shopping (and - consequently - being on our feet for a long period of time), our apartment never looked better! The sapin de Noël, Christmas tree, was up and decorated, and so many delicious smells were emanating from the kitchen! Juliette and I couldn't help but smile as we ran around, taking it all in. When Maman finally caught up to us, she too was smiling - I guess our enthusiastic feelings were contagious! Maman pulled us into her arms and told us to go into our chambre à coucher, our bedroom, because there were surprises for us waiting there. Surprises? Already? Our parents normally don't allow us to open presents until after midnight, a tradition many French families like to follow, unless . . . maybe . . . these presents were intended to be worn this very night! Juliette and I exchanged glances. We both knew what would be awaiting us in our bedroom: new clothes for Christmas!
Juliette found a lovely purple party dress draped on her bed, while I found a glamorous red velvet gown on mine. Do you think they resemble dresses sold at American Girl? These are even better - they were custom-made especially for us!
Wriggling out of our plain everyday clothes, we wasted no time in putting these dresses on and finding appropriately matching shoes and jewelry to go with them.
Because our maternal grandmother is Polish, we like to incorporate Polish traditions and cuisine into our Christmas Eve celebration. In Poland, Christmas Eve is called Wigilia, which is from the Latin term vigilare (to await). As Polish tradition dictates, a special prayer is said at the start of the holiday meal. We then exchange a special bread wafer similar to what is used for Holy Communion (oplatek). Each person present takes a bite of the bread, beginning with the parents and older relatives and ending with the youngest. With each bite that is taken, wishes for good health and success in the new year are exchanged. Dinner begins after the prayer and the exchanging of the bread. A white tablecloth is spread on the table, and an extra place setting is set for an unexpected visitor who would not be turned away (i. e. Baby Jesus). A true Polish Christmas Eve dinner doesn't include meat, but as the French Christmas Eve dinner does, we overlook that! This year, my family served carp (fish for Wigilia is to turkey for Thanksgiving!), pierogi (dumplings filled with sauerkraut, cheese, or prunes), noodles with poppy seeds, and kutia (boiled wheat, poppy seeds, and honey) to honor our Polish side.
The best part of La Réveillon is the dessert and one French Christmas Eve tradition that is never overlooked in my family! Have you ever had a slice of the Bûche de Noël, the Yule Log? It's a pound cake that has been rolled up and frosted to look like a log of wood, and it's delicious! Juliette and I were so stuffed from dinner this year, but somehow we both found room enough for a slice of cake.
After dinner comes the best part: presents! Juliette and I like to leave our slippers out where Père Noël (Father Christmas / Santa Claus) can find them and fill them with treats. We still kept that tradition up this year - we are not too old yet! We also had a few presents from friends to open, but our traditional French grandparents would not let us open them until after midnight!
When we were finally allowed to open presents, Juliette and I made a mad dash over to the sapin de Noël, the Christmas tree. We each grabbed a present and tore through the wrappings, so eager we were to see just what our friends and family had given us.
My friend Sadie was kind enough to send me a long-sleeved black shirt and a green choker necklace - both of which she made herself! Merci, Sadie! Thank you! I especially love the necklace; the color is so pretty.
My next gift was from my best friend, Nathalie. Oh, what could it be?
I ripped off the gift wrap and uncovered a book called Real Fitness! Of course! Nathalie, the athlete, is always trying to get me to exercise more . . .
Nathalie sent Juliette a gift, too:
When Juliette tore off the gift wrap, she found a Hello Kitty blind bag! Cutting the mysterious package open revealed this Hello Kitty figurine holding a lollipop; isn't she cute?
Finally, Juliette and I found the last gifts of the night: two identically wrapped boxes with ribbon bows. There was no difference between them, except for the color of the bows on top! Certainly whatever was inside one of them had to be the same as what was inside the other . . . right?
Ever curious, we inspected the packages further. They were from our good friend, Inky! And isn't the Paris-themed gift wrap just perfect for us?
Neither of us wanted to rip the special Paris-themed gift wrap, so we took extra care unwrapping the gifts from Inky. Once the gift wrap was off, each of us found a plain white box. Inside the box, however, was something furry . . . something orange and furry! But what could it be?
Squishables! Squishables are some of Inky's favorite toys, and she sent us each one of our very own. I got a red panda, while Juliette got a fox. Cool! Thank you so much, Inky!
Did you have a nice Christmas? Chanukah? Whatever it is that you celebrate? What did you do to celebrate? What kind of presents did you receive?