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.



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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)


  • Junior is certainly fortunate to be part of two cultures. Chez moi, my husband is Jewish from New York, I am a country girl from Montana and our kids are little beach bums from California. It all just makes life so much richer. Your family and your meals are lovely. Happy Holidays!

  • Hello Veronique

    I understand your predicament straddling the Atlantic ocean. Like you, I prefer to go to Ireland in summer time and it has been a very long time since I spent Christmas in Ireland. I still miss it and looking at your memories and photos through the years evoked my own memories.
    You have a beautiful family and I am sure your Christmas will be very happy

    Helen xx

    • Bonsoir dear Helen. Thank you for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. I would wait until summer to visit beautiful Ireland, too 🙂 In fact, I am planning to do that soon. I have never been there, believe it or not. I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas in [warm and balmy] Florida!

  • Wonderful pictures, all, Veronique! 🙂 And you DO look like your mother. It must be just like the line in the song.. ‘Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays!’ Paris looks splendid at Christmastime even more than any other time. (It always looks that way to me in pics.) I’m glad your mother in law is coming to you this year. I imagine she will bring a lot of Paris to you and your boys!

    • Dear Mary. Who wants to be away from their family when they sit around that pretty tree on Christmas morning? I certainly don’t, and have always tried to “spare” Junior that experience. Fortunately, our parents have always been willing to join us here when we could not take the long trip back to Paris. And yes, I am hoping Mutti is bringing a lot of Paris and France in that new suitcase of hers 🙂

    • Enchantée, Milsters, and bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle. I hope you got to pay le Cirque d’Hiver a visit while you lived in the République neighborhood… It is a Parisian winter tradition for children and adults alike, as you know… Come back soon!

  • Dearest Véronique,
    You did bring back childhood memories for me with those beignets… My Mom used to make apple beignets for us for the year’s ending. So special and they did taste so well during cold, snowy and frosty weather! Miss them…
    You do have lots of great memories and also Junior has a deep insight into the two cultures. It is tough for loved ones for being apart during these special days though. Hugs to you,

  • Every post of yours is like a love letter to Paris. I love that.

    What a wonderful upbringing your son is having! Traveling the world, and getting to see his dear family on a regular basis. Certainly something to be treasured and honored.

    Loved this post, Veronique!

  • Ah, Noel à Paris..Moi aussi j’y “montais” lorsque j’etais petite, chez ma grand-mère , pres du bois de Vincennes.L’arrivée à la gare de Lyon, le froid piquant pour nous , les Sudistes.La joie quand parfois il y avait la neige!Les reunions familales avec les cousins, les grands repas,et les balades ensuite, “pour digerer” :o)
    Tout ça s’est terminé avec le decès de ma grand-mère . Alors, voilà, ton billet me donne une nostalgie pas possible, faisant remonter des temps oubliés.Oui, il faut profiter de tous ces jolis moments, ils sont si precieux et si fragiles.
    Tu ne seras pas en France, mais la France sera quand même un peu à Seattle avec et grâce à toi!
    Bonnes fêtes!

    • Bonjour Marie. Je suis heureuse que ma petite histoire de Noël t’ait plue. Décidément, nous avons encore plus de points communs que je ne le pensais… Tu sais que mes parents, mon frère et moi avons longtemps vécu à Vincennes quand la famille est arrivée à Paris? Oui, il faut profiter de tous les jolis moments, comme tu dis. Nous essaierons d’en créer quelques uns pour Junior et Mutti dans quelques jours…

  • That is nice for your son to be raised in two cultures. He will be gratefull for that when he is getting older, I think. To have your family so far away must be tough sometimes, especialy with this holidays. Have a nice Christmas time.

    • Bienvenue, Marianne. I do believe that Christmas is the worst time to be away from your family. It comes with the package when one lives the expat life, however. Merry Christmas in beautiful Holland, Marianne!

  • I enjoyed reading your lovely memories of Christmas with your family very much. Your son is very lucky you preserve a close family for him. Keep up the good work!

  • What a wonderful post! How about taking the visiting relatives to Seattle’s new ferris wheel (I realize it won’t be as grand as being in Paris, but new memories are waiting to be made). And when those festivities get completed, lets get together!

    • Dear Jackie. I have not tried the Ferris Wheel yet. That is an excellent idea (as long as it is heated, of course 🙂 We certainly have a date in 2013. I won’t forget. Joyeux Noël in the sunny locale you are currently visiting…

  • Oh my Dear Veronique, you have outdone yourself today. I loved every single photograph. How fun to meet your family and see Jr. having so much fun in Paris.
    Joyeux Noël to you and yours,

    • Merci Virginia. Will forward your comments to the photographer-in-chief, bien sûr. I know you have been lucky enough to see your own grand-children have fun in Paris too. Isn’t that the best? Thank you for your friendship this year. We have had fun thanks to the blogs and good old FB, haven’t we? 🙂 Joyeux Noël in Alabama, dear V.

  • I don’t know…still looks cold outside! 😉 I love the tradition of sending the kids on a goose chase and pretending Père Noël just leapt off the balcony. I wonder if I can get the dog to fall for that one?

  • Such a beautiful post. What wonderful childhood memories it evoked for me. I am completely at a loss for the right words (in two languages), which is most unusual for me……just ask my husband.

    Joyeuses fêtes et “big” bisous,

    Bizzzz, M-T

    • C’est très gentil. Merci beaucoup, M-T… et je te crois: Comme moi, tu trouves toujours quelque chose à dire 🙂 Donc, c’est un grand compliment que tu me fais là. Nous attendons notre voyageuse parisienne qui arrive jeudi si tout va bien. Joyeux Noël à toi et Dan (sans oublier les félins, bien sûr!)

  • Wonderful, special family photos and fabulous pictures of Paris. It’s lovely that your son is ‘at home’ with both cultures – I love to hear children switch so effortlessly from one language to another. Your post brought back memories for me too of my visit to the winter circus many years ago and of my first galette des rois (when I discovered the fève in my piece!) Wishing you another happy, family Christmas… Bonne Année!

  • Yes, it’s so nice to have these memories! I look back on them in an album sometimes … and forget about the fact that we lived in Sweden, later in Paris, that the grandparents repectively lived in London and south France … and that there always was a problem with delayed flights, strikes, lost luggage…, whoever travelled -mostly us. Now, grandparents are gone, I’m the grandpa and my kids and grandkids all live within 15 minutes reach! 🙂

    • Ah, Peter, the stories I could tell about our many international flights… The long trip gets harder and harder every year (and I am not a grandmother, yet! 🙂 You are lucky to have your family around you in Paris! Joyeux Noël, cher Peter. Rendez-vous en 2013!

  • Wonderful Veronique. So generous of you to share your Christmas memories in France with your families. Junior is very lucky to know both cultures and to have such a loving family.

  • Oh I love this post. Thank you for ‘having us over’ for Christmas! As I read about your Christmas traditions in Paris, I realize that after only one year here, many of these have already become our traditions blended with all our other British and American traditions. Les Gallettes de Roi, fois gras, walking through the cold streets of Paris admiring the lights and climbing the Eiffel Tower in the fog (we ice skated on the first floor there last year – this year the girls did their skating on the Champs Elysees!). I think I need to add Les Pyreneens to the list of traditions this year! Have a wonderful time with your family in Seattle. Joyeux Noël de Paris!

    • You’re welcome Nicola. I am glad to see your family has embraced Parisian Christmas classics as well. If you do get Les Pyrénéens, don’t forget to refrigerate them: They are quite unique in that sense and are best enjoyed chilled (like Champagne!) – Joyeux Noël à Paris!

  • oh veronique..what a beautiful post! i feel so blessed to be here in paris for christmas..but at the same time..will miss our families so very much. i enjoyed reading your christmas traditions!
    it’s been wonderful getting to know you 🙂
    merry christmas to you and your family veronique! (and i took that same picture from the top of the ferris wheel this past weekend..only no snow here 🙁

  • I loved this post. Because it made me teary eyed for a second. I think going home every year to where we come from is crucial in keeping us sane. Holidays are always so nostalgic when family is missing, oh well … C’est la vie 🙂
    Happy HOlidays

  • Très en retard mais mieux vaut tard que jamais: Joyeux Noël à toi et à toute ta famille Véronique♥ Très belles tes photos. Elles respirent la chaleur et la joie d’être ensemble en ce jour sacré du 24 décembre…
    “Je filoche” (en cuisine) comme toi probablement!
    Gros bisous et à très bientôt!

  • Such fun to view this post full of family and Paris at Christmas. What lovely meals on that perfect French table setting. I’ve long admired the French for the grace and elegance of their tables and the reverence they afford dining. Thanks for sharing your beautiful family visits through the years. My first trip to Paris was at Christmas. I want to repeat the experience someday.
    Happy New Year……..Sarah

    • Thank you, dear Sarah. I will forward your comment to Mutti, my mother-in-law. That was her table I showed here. Coming from you, the Mistress of table dressing, we take your message as a big compliment 🙂 Happy New Year to you and yours. Looking forward to seeing you back here in 2013!

  • Oh my Veronique, this is such a wonderful post, and you have sort of helped me make up my mind about something..I hope to visit Paris again next year, wasn’t sure when, I think after reading this it may have to be around Christmas time, it sounds like something all those who love Paris, should experience at least once! I’m sure you had an equally wonderful time showing your French famille Seattle oui.

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