On Monday the 22nd, my journey through the west continued via train to Vannes, where I met up with Solena, my second former native speaker friend! (For those who don’t know: I met both Solena and Lise at Whitman, where they were Native Speakers and lived with me in the French House).
Solena invited me to spend Christmas with her family before I even knew for sure I’d be coming to France, and I was so excited to get to know her homes and families and experience a real French Christmas! Little did I know, I’d be celebrating three of them…
I spent Christmas Eve with Solena’s mother’s family in Elven, near Vannes (post on Bretagne to come). Here’s a breakdown of the evening’s festivities:
6 PM: Start getting ready by getting dressed in Christmas best
7:30 PM: Christmas Mass at l’Eglise d’Elven, full of songs and small children. The small children made it that much more entertaining, because we all agreed that it dragged on a little…but it seems like Mass is a pretty widely attended pre-Christmas celebration and I wanted to experience it firsthand.
9:00 PM: Get home from Christmas Mass, indulge the children’s fevered cries to open presents (Père Noel came while we were gone).
10:00 PM: Begin Christmas dinner with an apéritif — Martinis, vegetables and dip, and a variety of nuts.
11:00 PM: Begin the first entrée course — Fruits de mer (seafood) and vin blanc (white wine). This was a big vocabulary lesson for me. Pictured are some of the entrée options; there were shrimp, crayfish, spider crabs, oysters, clams (live), and some kind of sea snail. I tried everything!! I still love shrimp, and crayfish are delicious, but I had more trouble with the raw oysters. They tasted a little too much like the sea for me.
I think 12:30 AM: Second entrée course — Foie Gras on toast. I also tried some of this. I think foie gras is really delicious, it’s just sometimes a psychological struggle for me to eat it.
Sometime after 1 AM: Main dish! — Poulet marron (chestnut chicken) and vin rouge (red wine). I had never tried this dish, a Christmas specialty, before, and it was DELICIOUS! It’s my new favorite. Unfortunately at this point it was getting really difficult to eat anything due to fatigue and stuffed-ness.
After that: Fromage — cheese! I skipped this course accidentally because Solena’s 4 year old cousin came to sit on my lap and I couldn’t reach the cheese (at least that’s my excuse…)
3:00 AM: Dessert — the traditional French Christmas dessert is ice cream cake, or Buche de Noel. It’s in the shape of a Yule Log. Ours was an atypical flavor: mango passionfruit! The most common is chocolate.
4:00 AM: Not over yet! The last course: coffee and chocolate. I had hot milk for fear of never again being able to sleep if I ingested caffeine. Although I bet it would’ve been absorbed before it hit the bloodstream…
The next day, we got up and packed and drove to Port Louis.
Port Louis will be featured in my Bretagne post as well, but here I will talk about Christmas meal number 2! This time, it was Solena’s father’s family, and it began around 1 in the afternoon. I’ll just briefly describe the menu:
Apéritif: a variety of toasts with mystery seafood spreads (her grandmother had us guess what was in each one), and champagne!
Entrée: Oysters for most people, but another woman and I split the cooked palourdes (clams) with garlic, parsley, and butter, because neither of us like oysters. They were delicious!!
Entrée: Coquilles St. Jacques. These are some of my favorite, favorite things. It’s basically a variety of seafood treats in a deliciously rich beschamel-style sauce, and it was served to us in a shell. Homemade by Solena’s grandma and grandpa!
Main Dish: Poulet Chataigne. The same dish with a different type of chestnut, and I liked this variation even better. I ate a lot of it this time.
Fromage: I ate this this time.
Dessert: Chocolate Buche de Noel!
Café and Swiss chocolate rounded out another delicious meal.
This meal ended around 6 PM, and Solena and I went for a walk by the sea for digestive purposes. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.
The third Christmas dinner, I will be brief about, because the company was more important than the food. We dined with Solena’s family of friends the night after, for a soirée that lasted from 7 PM til 4 AM and was full of joy and laughter and friendship! To me, that is what Christmas anywhere is all about: family and family-like friends, coming together and eating and drinking and enjoying each other’s company. I was so grateful that I was welcomed with open arms into these families when I couldn’t be with my own! I have a hard time really putting into words how much I enjoyed the love and joy and Christmas spirit that I encountered on this vacation…here are some pictures of new and old friends instead!
Merry belated Christmas to friends and family, near and far!
Next up: Bretagne, the tourist post!