Some of Éva d’Alboy’s favourite memories of Christmas during her childhood in France are decorating the tree with her mother, and setting the table for the sumptuous Christmas Eve, or Le Reveillon de Noël, meal.
“We had to wear our most beautiful clothes and shoes and be impeccably presented, even as children,” said Éva, who grew up with her siblings, Laetitia, Jerémie and Vincent and parents, Heléne and Élie in the village of Savigny-le-Temple, about 40 kilometres south east of Paris.
The vivacious 36 year old relief teacher from Gomersal has lived in Australia for 13 years, but is still getting used to the fact she is able to fire up a barbecue and don a summery dress at Christmas.
“I actually enjoy being able to be outdoors over Christmas. In France it is dreary at this time of the year,” she said.
Other than the distinct difference in weather, Éva says Christmas in France is not too different from Australia, with both cultures gathering together for family celebration and engaging in gift giving.
Children in France are encouraged to write a letter to ‘Père Noël’ or Father Christmas, telling him how well behaved they have been during year.
“If they have been naughty, they need to convince Père Noël that they will be improving their behaviour the following year,” laughed Éva.
“We generally open our presents on the morning of Christmas Day.
“Each family member puts one of their favourite shoes under the Christmas tree so Père Noël knows where to put the gifts.
“This tradition is very important, and we have to make sure the shoes are clean and shiny!”
As one of the gastronomic capitals of the world, Christmas fare is naturally very important in France, with the meal on Christmas Eve being the most significant of the season.
“Generally French people open some carefully cellared wines that they have been keeping for the occasion. We also like to drink mulled wine and mulled cider,” explained Éva, who is well familiar with a good drop, being part of the Production Team at Hentley Farm in addition to her teaching hours.
“We love to start the meal with smoked salmon and Caviar. Foie Gras, or fatty liver, is also very traditional but presents some controversy as it can be classified as animal cruelty because the geese are force-fed.”
Just as in Australia, seafood is quite popular, with stuffed turkey usually served as main course.
But it is the traditional dessert Bûche de Noël, a log made of ice cream or rolled sponge cake filled with cream, that is the real showstopper.
“Some can be very intricate and beautifully decorated. Generally it aims to impress your guests!” said Éva.
In a year where COVID-19 has interrupted international travel and prevented Éva from visiting her homeland, the importance of connecting with family is of particular significance this Christmas.
“This year has been awful for a lot of people and we more than ever need to have a great Christmas,” she said.
“It has been difficult to deal with the restrictions and knowing that if something happens to my family, the travel restrictions will make it very complicated to manage.
“I am just happy they are safe. Hopefully, I will be able to visit soon.”
This year, a Skype call to her family on Le Reveillon de Noël followed by some of Éva’s favourite Aussie traditions will help to kindle her Christmas spirit.
“I love the warm weather, the long days, the bon-bons (as I had never seen them before), the festivities, and people’s enthusiasm!”