That night was one of my favorite memories in France so far just because it was like a storybook. There were vendors selling anything you can imagine from little log cabins covered in garland, kids passing their holiday wishes along to “Papa Noel,” and a team of tap dancers tapping along to old-time Christmas music. Everything looked good, smelled good, and there was just an overall good feeling. It was that night when I really started to feel that it was Christmas.
Christmas is done completely different here in France than back in the United States. In France, of course, food is a huge part of the culture. Here, Christmas Eve is really the big celebration where you spend the day eating a huge lunch with all sorts of different courses. We spend about four hours at the table eating at lunch, and as soon as we were finished, we started preparing for dinner, which was another four-hour production.
In France, you open presents at midnight on Christmas Eve, which is exactly what my family here and I did. It was weird doing this without my own family, but my host family did their best to make me feel at home. Normally in France, Christmas stockings are only for little kids, but my host mom surprised me with one just because she knew that I did that back home.
I enjoyed spending Christmas with my current host family because they have a daughter on exchange in the United States right now, and while they don’t always show it, I know it’s hard for them not having her here all the time.
Every family has its own holiday traditions. Whether it’s the ornament you put on the tree first, the foods that you cook, the music you listen to, the movies you watch, or the friends or family you’re with, it’s all part of what makes the holiday season so special. While I know and love each and every one of my family’s Christmas traditions, this year, I was fortunate enough to experience first hand how another family in another country celebrates this special time. While there were many differences, I came to realize that no matter what country you’re from, there is no better gift than being surrounded by the ones you love.
Ashley Bliss is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student. Follow her adventures on her blog at www.ablissfulbonjour.wordpress.com