Christmas in France… Looks like we all needed to adapt!

Christmas... Might take some getting used to for us expats.

All photos by Bellanda ®

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.

Traditional Milk & Cookies for Santa

Traditional Milk & Cookies for Santa

Holiday Cakes & CookiesWith Not so Traditional Colors

Holiday Cakes & Cookies
With Not so Traditional Colors


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.


22 thoughts on “Christmas in France… Looks like we all needed to adapt!

    • Thank you, Paul. I’m glad that you enjoyed it!
      Thank you for being such an active participant in my blogging journey. You’ve made me smile.

      Wishing you a wonderful 2013, filled with happiness and success for all of your future projects/dreams.


  1. No, a chapon is definitely not a turkey! lol
    It sounds like you’re slowing adapting, but a trip back next year could be very grounding and make you notice all the things you miss about Christmas in France! 🙂


    • Indeed! After 10 years of celebrating Christmas with my sweet man’s family, I am sure you are right. In addition, there is probably no way my family would be willing to eat escargot as an appetizer! lol

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my blog. I’m glad you are here with me, and I am glad to following you on your blog. Love your new ‘2013 Intentions’ Blog Post. 🙂


  2. Loved the story! It made me laugh. the only adjustment I had to make was for lack of snow since Christmas here in Barbados is full of all ‘old’ traditions plus with some new. Suzanne’s Christmas Village has grown into a city now, house lit up with lights, imported huge Christmas tree, a huge leg ham (I called Suzanne from store to ask her what size ham to buy and she told me to buy the biggest they have – I now know that I cannot buy a ham bigger than 13 kg – it barely fit into our oven and racks started bending from its weight) plus plenty Barbadian and Finnish Christmas dishes (we serve reindeer as well). We can still make room for your turkey though – this year about 60 people (about 35 adults + 25 kids of various ages) passed by our house on Christmas Eve (we celebrate Scandinavian way) – some living here some just visiting. And don’t worry we can easily still fit your family in and would love to have you guys at our house cooking and baking with us beforehand. Just throwing that up there as an option. And I am sure kids and you would not mind the beautiful beaches and warm Caribbean waters as an extra plus. :).

    Wishing you and your family all the best for 2013.


    • Thank you, Jukka! So glad I could make you laugh. Your story made me laugh, too. Definitely sounds like you have some VERY big parties! We will have to make it over there in the near future. It’s been way too long… miss you guys.
      Happy New Year to you, Suzanne and the kids…
      Much love and happiness in 2013!


  3. Oh gosh, I was giggling reading about your “turkey” adventures last year. We’ve all been there! I had a similar experience this summer and it made me learn that sometimes, your home traditions are best left in your home country and that yes, consequently, foreign countries call for new/different traditions. Happy New Year!


    • Thank you, Emma! I have to admit, I giggled while writing the post last night at around 2 AM (the only time I can find to work during the holidays is after everyone is sleeping).

      My sweet man kept giggling saying, “Shhhh… everyone is sleeping. Can’t wait to read what you are writing! Sounds like you are having fun.” (He, too, was working… Yes, the life of people who work for themselves… there are no real vacations! lol)

      You are indeed right, new traditions are not so bad… especially when shared with those we love. 😉

      Thank you for taking the time to write a comment on my blog post. I’m happy to have you here and look forward to communicating more with you! Wishing you, and those you care about a very happy 2013.


  4. Like you, I would love to travel home (west coast of Canada) to spend Christmas with my family but that hasn’t happened yet. One of these years. Yes, learning to adapt to your spouse’s family traditions and ways of life is an experience but enjoyable nonetheless. May your upcoming new year bring you more joy and new experiences.


    • Thank you, Libby. Let’s hope we both get to share the next holiday with our families… Maybe I will make escargot for them! lol

      Thank you for taking part in my blog… your comments are greatly appreciated!

      Wishing you a wonderful 2013, filled with happiness and realization of your projects and dreams.


  5. Thank you, Libby. Let’s hope we both get to share the next holiday with our families… Maybe I will make escargot for them! lol

    Thank you for taking part in my blog… your comments are greatly appreciated!

    Wishing you a wonderful 2013, filled with happiness and realization of your projects and dreams.


    • today is new years eve, Your story gave me joy, and memories of days gone bye, and all the traditions that were formed, first from family, friends and our favorite …our own traditions we made from myself, husband and children. I cherish those days and the years to come. Thank you for reminding me, in your own special way, your writings skills are wonderful, for you say what people want to say, only better.


      • Thank you, Josie. I’m touched by your story and your kind words. I don’t think I could have said what you said better than you. 😉 Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad that mine gave you joy and that it was able to bring back your own family memories.

        Wishing you and your family a truly wonderful 2013, filled with happiness. Thank you for your continued participation in my blogging journey. Your words are always welcomed and appreciated. I look forward to continued contact the coming year. Best wishes…


  6. Very touching post and good on ya for suggesting escargots and quail!

    One of our good friends in Sydney was a couple with two children (now grown) — mother originally from Oregon, father from Australia. Early in their marriage, they decided they’d do America one year, Australia the other. They said that once all the families got used to them *not* being around on alternate years, it helped everyone because all sides and more importantly, the children, knew who would be where and when, and the kids developed wonderful relationships with both sides of the family and their parents’ dual traditions. So — long way of saying — hope you do take your sweet hubby and children back to the U.S. for Christmas, at least once in a while 🙂

    ‘Til then, cheers and happy new year!



    • Thank you, Carolyn. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. 🙂
      I wish we could alternate like your friends… that would be the perfect solution! Hopefully soon we will be able to hop across the ocean to celebrate with my family. 😉

      Wishing you a wonderful 2013, filled with happiness. Thank you for being part of my blogging journey. I look forward to having you with me as I blog into 2013… so excited to continue realizing all of my projects and dreams.


  7. My gosh, I love your humor “go with the French flow of things, and chill out” made me laugh aloud. And oh, that poor rooster…
    Glad to hear this year was one of the best dinners yet 🙂
    But in case I end up visiting Paris, will you cook me a turkey? An actual turkey. 😉 I’ve only once had turkey before, when I went to a Thanksgiving celebration of some American friends’ and boy, it was amazing!

    Christmas traditions with one’s sweetheart are never easy though, even if you’re in the same city. For example: my Chef and I agreed “no Christmas presents for each other’s families.” As in, no presents from them to us, no present from us to them. We’re only a year and a bit into the relationship, so we didn’t want any extra worries (nor had too much money to spare with both of us just starting new jobs in Nov and Dec, so this seemed perfect.) There is way beyond enough time for that, later.
    Last year, the Chef came to my place, we exchanged gifts, had dinner and we went back to his place. This year, he convinced me to go to his place, exchange gifts there and have dinner with his family. Okay, seemed like a fair idea.
    By the time I arrived everyone was seated at the table, so I figured, okay, dinner first. I glanced at the Christmas tree, and there they were. Many unopened presents. I gave him the “I’m going to kill you and I don’t care that it’s X-mas” look. He let me calm down, then the family was all like “let’s exchange presents”. Of course.
    And guess what? *I* got a present from his family. (Could quote you here, “poor little me…”, I know…) So there I was, getting a present, when I haven’t brought anyone anything. I’m not sure I could’ve been more embarrassed or felt more out of place and just plain uncomfortable…
    The Chef ended up telling me that despite telling her well ahead of time and first agreeing to it, his mom brought the present and didn’t want to understand that we didn’t want any of that.
    So, I guess I’ll have to adapt for next year now… Not that it’s a big deal, but my gosh it was a shock and made me feel super guilty over not bringing anything with me.


    • Thank you for your kind words about my writing, Estrella. So glad you were able to laugh with me! It is one of the best rewards a writer can have.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Oh my gosh… Yes, you do get to say, ‘poor little me.’ I totally feel for you! I would have been like you and wanted to crawl under the table, but then I would have to put things back into perspective and just say to myself to ‘go with the French flow of things, and chill out. Thank goodness I can count on the French for that cool, chill out reputation that I can use as an excuse to relax or I’d be a basket case by now! lol

      At least you now know that ‘no gifts’ actually means… give gifts. Who would have thought?!? lol You will be ‘smarter’ thanks to the experience next year! 😉

      Wishing you a wonderful 2013… so glad to have you here with me on my blogging journey. Your contributions are always welcomed. Best wishes to you!


      • Thank you for your kind words, wish I could use the same cool, chill out reputation of the French for this one. Although, I guess it was more of a shock since we got away with the no-gifts rule the Christmas before… but yes, now I know that no presents, for them, means ‘do give presents’.

        Thanks for the new year wishes, wishing the same to you. Hope you have a healthy, laughter and love-filled, shiny 2013! Best wishes to you and yours!


  8. Just discovered your blog… glad your family got a kick out of American traditions too. My in-laws, lovely people really, just stared at me blankly when I expressed my interest in doing some Christmas activities like baking and decorating. Ahhh, I guess it’s better to just adapt sometimes. And thanks for the lesson on capon. I’ll have to be on the lookout for one of those! All the best to you in 2013!


    • Thank you so much, Diane. I’m thrilled to have you with me here on my blogging journey. I can totally relate… It has taken me 10 years for us all to adapt. Courage… it is possible! lol

      Oh yes, and do look out for so-called Capon turkeys. 😉
      Best wishes to you in 2013!


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