Christmas is always a special time of the year, no matter where you are in the world. I have spent Christmas in all different kinds of ways, from spending it with friends and family in the U.S. and England, once by myself a few years back when I was a student, which was actually very relaxing and I still remember taking a nice, hot bubble bath complete with candles and wine, and now for the second time with my boyfriend and his family in Dinard, France.
The small seaside town on Dinard is located on the northwest coast of France in the region of Brittany, about a two and a half hour drive north of where I live in Saint Nazaire. It’s a beautiful little town with a population around 10,000 in the off-season, full of character with its mix of British and French seaside architecture. During the big vacation periods the city can double or even triple in size. Many people from Paris and other big cities have a second home here and escape to the seaside for some R&R.
I’m happy to have my boyfriend as a native of Dinard to take me around to his favorite places and hideouts, trying to avoid touristy areas as best as we can. If you love the ocean, you would enjoy walking along the stone made paths built into the steep rock edges that just right into the ocean, while taking in the distinct sea air and gazing at the emerald colored water and the majestic views it brings of the neighboring town of Saint Malo and also the small islands spotted here and there. We visit Dinard usually once a month, and every time we’re there I always can’t wait to get my refill of mystery and splendor the area brings.
Before arriving, we spent the last week in Saint Nazaire Christmas shopping, packing, and walking around town looking at the Christmas decorations and getting into the Christmas spirit. The streets were covered in a thick blanket of fog for three days straight and it was hard to get motivated to get out of the house but we eventually got there and got the holiday spirit revived inside.
The two major shopping areas in Saint Nazaire are the Ruben Bleu and Paquebot outdoor malls, filled with major and local brands. This year mini carousels and a train ride were set up for children, in addition to a petting zoo with small farm animals and a big mailbox exclusively for letters to Père Noël aka Santa Claus or Father Christmas. The streetlight poles are decorated with glimmering lights in a coordinating fashion – we have many more lights up this year than last, if I remember correctly. There’s also an ice-skating rink set up in the big plaza in front of the Mayor’s Office, on top of what usually is a big fountain. Finally, a big carnival for all ages is set up in another big plaza, where you can walk around in a funhouse, ride the main attraction that spins you upside down, buy barbe à papa, or cotton candy, chichis, or churros and a hot cup of vin chaud, aka spiced mulled wine. And don't worry, these are all located within walking distance from each other.
The hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations are the same in France as in any other country celebrating this holiday season: putting up and decorating a real or fake tree, decorating the house – only in France the majority of people don’t decorate the outside of their house, only the inside – preparing for visitors or traveling around, stocking up on food for all the Christmas meals, making cookies, wrapping presents, the list continues.
To be honest, I was feeling like a Grinch until the last few days before leaving for Dinard, mainly because I was super bogged down at work with teaching and prepping Christmas-themed lessons, not to mention being in charge of the student Christmas party – no stress, no pressure, right? Well, after relaxing the weekend after the busy work week, my Christmas spirit finally made its appearance.
As far as presents go, I tried to keep it to a minimum and gave more thoughtful gifts to everyone, continuing my “gift of giving” ambiance, as I mentioned in my last post about my Frenchie Thanksgiving. After opening the presents, I could see that everyone understood that I selected each present carefully and had each of them individually in mind when I selected them. What were their presents, exactly? Edited photos from certain moments during my boyfriend’s sister’s civil wedding in November. I was quite happy with the results, as were they.
So what do the French do before, during, and after the Christmas holiday? Well, to welcome winter, change of food menu is in order. We switch to heavier foods that sometimes involves a lot of cheese, like fondues and raclettes – two of my favorite dishes because not only are they delicious, you typically enjoy these dishes in groups since there’s a lot to go around. My boyfriend also likes to eat braserade, or cooking meat on a small metal wood-burning grill they set on the table. To sum up, winter welcomes more meals together with friends at home or at a restaurant, with everyone sitting around the table enjoying good food, good wine, and good company for the evening. Just like other Latin-based cultures, the French spend many hours around the table talking and eating, and I love it. As the saying goes: Eat, Drink, and be Merry!
Another popular activity to do with friends and family is to visit the Christmas markets that are set up at the end of November and continue until the New Year. In Nantes, the largest city near home in Saint Nazaire, has very nice markets this time of year and I’m eager to visit others around the country. Each stand looks like a gingerbread house in my eyes, each with a vendor selling his or her craft, from holiday treats like homemade nougat to handcrafted gifts to modern gadgets to unique and original things you can’t find anywhere else. Last year I found the cutest and quirkiest candles I had ever seen. There were shaped as different desserts, and I chose three cupcakes and an ice cream sundae for my boyfriend’s mom, which she loved. I never had the opportunity to tour the markets this year but I definitely won’t miss them again next year.
To finish, Christmas was wonderful this year, and we celebrated with my boyfriends family on Christmas Eve, first by going to evening mass, then coming home and have the apero (finger foods and a drink) while opening presents, followed by a light dinner of oysters and fois gras with red wine, and ending with a chocolate ice cream bouche log for dessert.
I wish you all a great rest of your Christmas week and that you’re all ready to celebrate the New Year and what amazing things 2017 will bring to everyone around the world.
Until next time: Go.Get.Inspired!!!
Go Get Inspired by…Quote: “Christmas waves a magic wand around the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful” ~Norman Vincent Peale
Disclaimer: ALL pictures are taken by myself and are not to be reproduced without my knowledge and permission.