Updated: Feb 11
An acquaintance asked me yesterday what we were planning to do for Christmas this year. With long languid summer days & French August holidays fast approaching, nothing was further from my mind. Memories of last Christmas came flooding back & I thought it was time to tell the story of our first Christmas in France.
We arrived in France at the end of March 18, with 2 suitcases each, pillows & 1 set of sheets. Having worked for 14 months to secure a French VISA as Business Entrepreneurs. Finally, in what seemed a last-minute rush, the international moving company arrived packed our container & 3 days later Matt & I flew out on one way tickets to Paris. The story of our arrival is for another day. 7 Weeks later our container of possessions arrived. Suddenly it was October & the great rush to be ready for our Australian guests & Christmas had begun. Our First French Christmas involved sparkling night visits to Laval to enjoy the Christmas lights & fantastic animated Christmas windows. Chats with my French neighbours about where to buy the best; & my first, real pine ceiling high Christmas tree. We were loving the French abundant spirit of Christmas, street lights, dark evenings, hope for a first white Christmas, & the supermarkets bounty of Christmas food.
Before leaving Australia fears of a lonely cold 1st Christmas in a huge house haunted me, so invitations were given & much to our delight family & friends booked their Christmas flights to France. Our first Christmas was an international table of our Australians friends & my sons, Canadian & American expat friends from our local French language class. After many texts & chats, digging out my cookbooks, we gathered around a very extended table for a very French Christmas. 17 guests sat down to lunch, aged between 16 & 80. It was a wonderful official christening of our 18thc dining room. I had a few moments of teary happy emotions, to relish our joy, after only being in France for 9 months.
We set the table with a cream & gold Limoges dinner service we found on the third floor. Having been packed away decades ago, in a storeroom on the upper floors of our new house. A treasured dusty find, I suspect had never been used. We had purchased the contents of the second-floor storerooms when we bought the house, again that adventure is a tale still waiting to be told.
Wanting to have a very French Christmas I chatted over afternoon tea with several of my French neighbours, asking about their Christmas traditions from the best place to buy the Christmas tree to Christmas Day lunch. Our menu evolved, taking on a life of its own as guests contributed & French neighbours put us onto the local network for sourcing the very best goose in Mayenne. (An adjunct to the cooking was us sourcing a second hand huge English range cooker with 2 ovens, & having it installed into our kitchen in time for Christmas.)
Pale yellow linen embroidered tablecloth & napkins purchased from Emmaus; French Charity shops , Crystal glasses; ours + Emmaus, vintage Limoges dinner service, found in our house, luxuary Bon Bons from America; gift from our American guests. Cutlery was French, ours from Australia.
I recall the menu so exactly as so much planning went into the meal. We sat down at about 1pm & the first guests rose to leave about 6pm.
L'Aperitif – Traditional Foie Gras & champagne– the Foire Gras a Christmas gift from our French neighbour & friend, she taught French cooking classes for many years when living in Australia. T
Le Entree – A huge pot of Brittany fresh Mussels/Moules cooked in a cream & wine sauce, sprinkled with croutons cooked by our Canadian friends.
Plat - Cooked by my husband Matt, my 26 yr old son Jackson & our dear Australian friend Tom. 2 x free range roast goose with cherry stuffing & roasted green apples. A Nigella Lawson recipe served goose fat roast potatoes, carrots sweet potato & onions. Fresh steamed Haricot vert, é served with home-made Cherry confiture, from the trees in our garden. Our last precious jars saved for Christmas.
Fromage - Two platters of local Mayenne fromage, Bons Mayennaise Cambert, Bons Mayennaise Le Lingot, Président Le Brie, Ernée Ash rolled Cheve from Mayenne Marché.
Dessert – Two Buche de Noel one chocolate & one red berry from Mayenne Patisserie Le Fournil d’Alexis. Buying desert was in the French tradition as our oy French neighbours recommended buying from skilled artisans who know how the make them.
Café & Lint Chocolates 2 huge boxes from our American guests.
Du Vin (Wine) We purchased a case of Saumur Crema sparkling wine, delivered direct from a Wine merchant in Laval, along with a mixed dozen of Cote de Rhone & a white wine.