Yet, another Christmas spent at my in-laws in the mountains of the south of France. I know, poor little me… I can feel the lack of sympathy pouring in. Go ahead and hate me if you like, but I haven’t spent Christmas at home in the United States with my family and our holiday traditions since our daughter was 8 months old. To give you an idea of how long that has been, she will be turning 7 in April. Yes, I think my eyes just popped out as I looked at that number. It seems almost impossible to imagine, yet oh so true.
My first year here, I naively asked what kind of traditions my sweet French man’s family follow… and well, to my surprise, everyone looked at me as if I had three heads. I told them about some of our traditions, such as our foods, desserts and Christmas Caroling. Their eyes opened wide, as I talked about that last one and they burst out laughing.
“Nooooo! Imagine, knocking on the neighbor’s door to sing?!? They would call the men in white jackets to take you away.”
My sister-in-law put her hand to her ear as if she were holding a telephone and said, “Hello Doctor!?!” Tears of laughter rolled down everyone’s faces as they imagined someone doing that.
“They invite you inside their houses for a drink after?!? That is truly crazy!” Their laughter only became stronger.
At that moment, I realized, Christmas was never going to be like in the United States and although their laughter made me laugh, I must admit that my first Christmas with them left me feeling a little displaced rather than enamored.
Each year since, my sweet man and I have tried to introduce some holiday spirit and traditions into their household. We make various cookies and cakes together while we pump Christmas music throughout the house. Progress has indeed been made and they have adapted wonderfully. However, even though I would love to see the faces of their neighbors, I don’t think they will ever be ready to go Christmas Caroling.
Last Christmas, I thought I struck gold when my mother-in-law asked me to make a turkey for the Christmas meal because she loved the one I made on Thanksgiving. Yes, when I think of turkey, I think Thanksgiving, but hey, this was one of the first compliments I had ever gotten on my cooking from her, so of course I jumped at the chance! I asked her to buy the turkey for me since we would be arriving from Paris the day before Christmas. She agreed happily, and of course I was thrilled. She was actually going to trust me to cook our Christmas meal! Had we found some kind of common ground? Now that would be a nice Christmas present!
Christmas morning arrived, and after the little ones opened their gifts, I asked my Mother-in-law to tell me where the turkey was so I could start preparing it. When she walked into the kitchen with the “turkey” I just sat and stared at it for a few moments. ”Is this a turkey?”
“It’s the same thing as a turkey, so don’t worry.”
“Ummmm… it doesn’t look like a turkey.”
“Don’t worry, it’s the same thing.”
Same thing? What does that even mean? It is or isn’t a turkey, right? Even though I knew this was unlike any turkey I had ever seen, I tried to prepare it the same way I do my turkeys. As it was cooking, I couldn’t help but notice a foul odor. I sniffed around and was horrified as that odor seemed to be coming from the oven. I opened the oven door to verify, and yes my fears were confirmed. That horrible smell was coming from the oven!
Trying to remain calm, I asked once again, “Ummmm… are you sure it is turkey? It doesn’t smell like one.”
“Yes, stop worrying… it’s just like a turkey.” She was so relaxed, which made me feel even more ridiculous for asking, yet again. I thought to myself, okay, just go with the French flow of things, and chill out.
I made gravy with drippings from the so-called “turkey” and then tasted the gravy. I nearly fell on the floor in horror. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted! Then, I tried the meat and it was even worse! I have made several perfectly delicious turkeys using my Mom’s recipe, so I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. There was no way I was eating this thing, let alone feeding it to my kids!
As we sat around the table, I looked at the “turkey.” My sweet man sliced it and we both looked at each other. I couldn’t contain myself any longer. “There is nooooo waaaaay that this is a turkey! What on earth is this?”
Once again I got, “It’s the same thing,” with an added, “Why do you keep asking?!” She spoke to me as if I didn’t know what a turkey was. (For goodness’ sake! Those of you who have read my “Pardoning Tom the Turkey for Thanksgiving in Paris” blog post, understand just how well I know what a turkey is!)
Perhaps I needed to be clearer, I thought. “What is the French name of this animal?”
After getting out our smart phones, my Sweet man and I Googled the name… and came up with, “Castrated Rooster.”
The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them, “Okay, so not only was this poor animal killed for us to eat, it was castrated first??? That is just WRONG.” Everyone burst out laughing! Even I had to admit, that this was funny and joined them in the laughter.
I guess the polite name for this bird is actually Capon… but Capons are definitely NOT turkeys, so my advice to you is to NEVER EVER try to cook them as if they are. Yuck! The kids and I, as well as my sweet man, ate a Christmas meal of vegetables… while my mouth watered for my Mom’s traditional Christmas lasagna appetizer, prime rib main course dinner with mashed potatoes and other vegetables, followed by an array desserts: cookies shaped like Christmas trees, Grandma’s Italian cookies, Mom’s delicious ambrosia, homemade pies, cakes and of course eggnog.
This year I thought, Christmas dinner would definitely be better… I mean really, last year’s Christmas was not hard to beat. Then, I got a phone call from my Mother-in-law. “Would you make a turkey this year?” I thought she was joking and laughed.
“No, really, I’d love for you to make a turkey this year.”
Seriously, had she forgotten last year’s fiasco? “Okay, I have absolutely no problem with making a turkey if it is REAL turkey, however, if you bring me a capon, there is no way I am cooking it.”
Then the words came out of my mouth that I never thought I would ever say. “Why don’t we just have escargot as an appetizer and quail or rabbit for our main course?” What has come over me, I thought? I never would have said this 10 years ago… and then I realized that apparently, after all of these years, I too have adapted!
We ended up eating escargot and quail this year… a far cry from my Mom’s traditional meal, but ooooh so delicious! Christmas is definitely not the same, and yes I still feel displaced during the holiday season. I miss my family, as well as our traditions, but I have my very sweet French man by my side as well as our two wonderful children and for that I am blessed. Although I am never unhappy in their presence, I am thinking that perhaps next year a Christmas trip to the United States might be in order.