Noël à Paris… Memories of [Parisian] Christmas past


Les Noëls se suivent mais ne se ressemblent pas (Christmas celebrations pass by, yet each one is different.)

Our family moved to Seattle in 1996, and slowly but surely, we settled into our new lives, building a career (le Husband) or a small business (Moi,) making friends, exploring the Pacific Northwest (on land or on the water) and finally welcoming “Junior,” our bona-fide American son. Houses have come and gone. So have good friends, as many expat families moved back home after a few years. One tradition has remained: We have been fortunate to fly home once a year, without fail, for the last 16 years. This has always been very important to me, especially after Junior was born. He may live 8,000 miles away from his grandparents and the rest of the family: I was determined he would know them, spend quality time with them, and be able to communicate in French with them. And he does.

The first of many international trips…
Junior, 11 months.

Over the years, Junior has been exposed to the French (and the European) way of life. He understands it, and, at age 13, is already a keen observer of cultural and linguistic differences. His comments on French or American idiosyncrasies are often spot on, and entertaining. The big challenge we face every year is to decide whether we should schedule our visit to France in the summer or at Christmas time. The Holidays are a special time of the year to be with family, and it has always felt a bit strange to be away from them then, as we were vacationing in a corner of the United States or British Columbia, or in sunny locales like Hawaii. It has been a juggling act, but we have made it work, I think, alternating the best we could.

This year, we will not be flying home to Paris for the Holidays, but Paris is coming to us. Le Husband’s mom, Junior’s grandma, “Mutti,” will be landing at Seatac airport in a few days. Junior and his parents will be happy to share an American Christmas with her in the Pacific Northwest. It will be fun, and fast paced, just like the Holidays in Paris. Different too. We will miss the rest of the family. We will miss Paris at Christmas time. Amazing how much I remembered, as I browsed through old photos this week…

Noël à Paris… There is quality time spent with family. Two sets of grand-parents. My brother’s family (and for Junior, cousins.) There are long conversations, punctuated with laughter. There are serious moments, as we catch up, exchanging information about relatives and friends. There are heated arguments (this would not be a Mediterranean family without them,) as we try to plan the days ahead, agreeing on a place to meet, on things to do while cramming four adults and a young child in a 700 square foot apartment. Good times.

Part of the family…
La Fournaise restaurant, Chatou.


Getting spoiled in Mamie Lyne’s kitchen…
and learning that not everyone lives in a spacious suburban home 
Getting spoiled, always, chez Mamie Mutti and Papy J.P.
Relaxing and watching French cartoons with Papy Zinzin…

Noël à Paris… Hanging out with les cousins and, for years, wearing matching sweaters, hand knit by Mamie Lyne.

Noël à Paris... Enjoying long, leisurely meals, in elegant or more relaxed settings, sharing animated conversation and French culinary delights.

Mutti’s Rôti de porc aux pruneaux (served with chestnuts) 


Jolie table de Noël…


Foie gras

Mamie Lyne’s Oreillettes (beignets)
Papy Zinzin’s “Escargots”:  For dessert,
or whenever Papy Zinzin feels like having them…

(photographer unknown)

And, bien sûr, une coupe of everyone’s favorite drink.

Noël à Paris… For Junior, experiencing Paris like a young local.

Avec maman, au jardin des Plantes


Museum of Natural History

Après-midi au Cirque d’Hiver (Winter afternoon at the circus.)

Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione

A traditional French circus: The traveling Pinder circus

Eating Barbe-à-Papa (cotton candy,) crêpes, and the traditional galette des rois (Kings’ cake.) 

Spinning for hours on les manèges (carousels,) available in many neighborhoods.

Navigating le Métro like a pro, climbing to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and learning about Parisian landmarks from the top of la Dame de Fer, (the Iron Lady.)


With Papy Zinzin and Mamie Lyne


Show ‘them tourists how it’s done, Junior!
“That’s one big city!”

Noël à Paris. Finally, le Réveillon (Christmas Eve,) arrives. The family has gathered at my parents’ and celebrates early so little children can go to bed before midnight. My brother’s family will be off at the crack of dawn, to celebrate Christmas day with his wife’s relatives in Nantes, 250 miles away from Paris.

After the traditional meal, the children get excited. “When will He arrive? Will we get to see Him this year?,” they ask. Le Père Noël. Santa Claus. “You need to look for Him outside, so you can welcome Him when he shows up.” the grown-ups reply. My parents’ apartment is on the fourth floor of the building, and my brother takes the children downstairs, in the cold Paris night, where they are told to be on the lookout for le Père Noël. Off they go, in their PJs and slippers, bundled up in their warm coats. Meanwhile, in the apartment, the adults scramble furiously to pull out of the three closets all the beautiful Christmas gifts, kept out of little prying eyes for days. Panique. Mayhem. We rush to arrange the gifts around le petit sapin (Christmas tree,) before the children return. After a few minutes, we hear them. Excited voices. The sound of little feet running out of the elevator. They come banging on the apartment door. We let them in. The children are out of breath, and seem disappointed. “We missed him. We did not see him. Has He been up here?” Then they hear my father’s voice, out on the small balcony: “Merci, Père Noël! A l’année prochaine! N’oubliez pas votre biscuit!” (Thank you Santa. See you next year. Don’t forget your cookie!) The children’s faces drop for a few seconds. They missed Him. Then they light up again. They get it: Santa is gone, but he must have left something behind. They push each other to get to the tree, and they see them, the beautiful packages. The distribution starts, children pass the gifts around, until everyone has received at least one. At long last, they go for it, and all we hear is giggling, excited voices, the sound of little hands tearing paper.

“This one’s for you, Mamie Lyne!”

Noël à Paris. There is nothing quite like it. Famille, Paris, la Belle France, as always it won’t be the same without you.

Joyeux Noël! 

A Bientôt.

Tuileries Gardens, from the Ferris Wheel
La Seine


Le Grand Palais


La Dame de Fer dans le brouillard
(Eiffel Tower in the fog) 


Eiffel Tower – Alexander III bridge


All photos, except otherwise noted, property of Frederick Savoye photography.

Please do not use without permission.



Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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