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Hello, Emily here. When David asked me to share how my family will celebrate during the festive season this year I was impressed he was so organized in advance… before realizing that there’s less than 5 weeks until Christmas Day! So without further ado here are all the fun things we’ll be enjoying over the next few weeks (you can find my 2019 and 2020 versions here).

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a happy holiday season and hope that you have the chance to connect with family and friends, whether in person or from afar.

Emily

How my family is celebrating Christmas in Paris this year

As Christmas decorations appear all over town, and I take the last of the pumpkins off our mantlepiece, I’m finally making a start on holiday preparations. I’d put off planning this year as we strongly considered spending Christmas in Australia (where I’m from) but as travel is still restricted in my home state we’ll have to wait a little longer to see Santa in shorts again. So we’re getting cozy, hoping for snow and I’ve decided this is the year I’ll finally learn some French Christmas carols. Joyeux Noël!

Reconnecting with family

We enjoyed a taste of Christmas recently when 3 of my 4 brothers, as well as my father and step-mother descended on us in Paris for a weekend of long overdue catch ups (we all live in different countries and the travel restrictions are ever changing). We introduced our one year old to those that hadn’t met her yet and my husband very kindly (and somewhat reluctantly – as they are very hard to reach and he knew I would ask him to put them away again the next day) got the Christmas decorations out of storage for a festive lunch. To keep things simple I picked up 4 plump, roasted chickens at our local butcher, as well as pommes de terre sarladaises, potatoes slow cooked in the dripping fat from the chickens, perfectly salty and with a hint of garlic. I added a roast ham (it took me years to find them in Paris – if you are looking, ask your butcher for a jambon demi-sel or jambonneau), which is a Christmas staple in Australia so my brothers were very happy indeed. On the side I served crispy green beans, tossed in garlic butter and bread crumbs then finished with a sprinkling of good quality French salt, and Brussels sprouts pan fried with bacon and maple syrup. Truffled Brie cheese is back in season at the market so we thickly smeared that on fresh baguettes before I introduced my family to some light-as-air treats from Aux Merveilleux du Fred (they are perfectly cooked meringues, covered in silky whipped cream and rolled in chocolate shavings. They are such a treat, if you ever get the chance, please try one). After all that everyone needed a short nap and a long walk, including our dog Noisette who helped herself to anything my small children tossed on the floor, as well as half a baguette that we left unattended. It was a great weekend and I was so thankful to be able to reconnect with family after such a long time and share the small stories that get lost during digital catchups.

Advent calendars

Each year we set our Lindt advent calendars on the mantle and open them every day after breakfast. BHV (an all-round department store in Paris with everything from French cookware to an entire floor of hardware in the basement) is cleverly offering a personalized service this year, where you can pick each chocolate that goes inside – so no need to swap out the dark chocolate ones with my husband. As I do every year, I’ve printed a selection of photos of funny and memorable moments from the year, which go into envelopes decorated by the kids. My husband opens them day-by-day and they hang along a strand of tinsel until the end of January when we pack them away with those from previous years. If you’d like a taste of France every day in December perhaps check out the calendars available from Angelina, Ladurée, Mariage Frères, Bonne Maman, La Maison du Chocolat, Diptyque (my dream calendar) or Poilane.

Decorating

Although I would love to put our sapin de Noël up now, in France it’s traditionally left up for the 12 days of Christmas, until January 6th. So we’ll buy ours on the 11th of December (if I can wait that long) to give it a better chance of lasting. We have the perfect spot for it near the window and I really enjoy my personal tradition of picking it out and shocking my husband with the size when it gets delivered (last year he had to saw it into pieces to get it back out of the apartment). We go to a stall nearby that sells them where the man is very patient and loves to discuss whether you want a tall, short, bushy or skinnier version, showing several options until you find your perfect tree. I’m very sentimental so I insist we put carols on the record player, simmer vin chaud and decorate together in organized chaos. I’ve already got my eye on a few new ornaments to add to our collection, and perhaps a nutcracker figurine to stand guard on the mantlepiece. 

Last year my daughter and I made Christmas wreaths for friends in Paris, with eucalyptus leaves and orange slices that we’d dried out in the oven. I’ve got a box of old ribbons to add to this year’s version, along with cinnamon sticks, pine cones (if we find any) and a few golden jingle bells. It’s the perfect weekend afternoon activity.

Making memories

I always seem to be the one taking photos, never in them, so this year I’ve organized a quick family photoshoot in our home, with a local photographer, to capture some magical memories. I’m going all in with matching outfits for the kids and my husband rolled his eyes when I told him, but he’ll be pleased that the photos will also do double-duty as great gifts for all the grandparents. I’ve booked Janelle from My Paris Portraits (who is fantastic, this will be our second family photo shoot with her) and Miss Paris Photo also comes highly recommended.

Christmas with the girls

I have a wonderful WhatsApp group chat with some Australian women here in Paris (including one of my best childhood friends) which has been a real help though lockdowns and life in general. Last year we did a postal Secret Santa and this year we are meeting up for champagne and an in-person exchange of gifts. Hosted by someone with the dreamiest balcony, the view overlooking the twinkling Eiffel Tower will be the perfect backdrop as we celebrate everyone’s highs and lows from the past year with some amazing food and Christmas sparkle.

Christmas shopping

All year long I make notes when people mention they need or want something in particular, so when my husband inevitably suggests giving his dad yet another scarf, I can counter with something he might prefer – for example this year my in-laws are getting a voucher for a lunch cruise along the Seine on Alain Ducasse’s electric boat. If you’re looking for something Paris themed you can’t go wrong with these beautiful decorations or the Paris Chic book. Alternatively a personalized cider bowl from Brittany is very sweet (I had one made for all 3 of my kids) or a beautiful print of the city (I’ve just launched a print shop with a small selection). You can get to know Paris from afar with this puzzle (my mum did it in quarantine and loved it) or have artist Carol Gillott send a watercolor that she paints from her chambre de bonne on the Ile St-Louis.

Perhaps an online class from La Cuisine, Cook’n with Class, Molly Wilkinson or Kate Hill would make someone happy and it’s a lovely activity to do together, even with friends and family far away.

All I want for Christmas is a nap please Santa! 

Christmas lights

The Christmas lights that shine across Paris are just magnificent. From the widest boulevard to the tiniest cobbled street, the city makes a huge effort to decorate. Place Vendome, rue Saint Honoré, Place Dauphine, Palais Royal and Boulevard Saint Germain are a few of my favorites, but nothing beats le Bon Marche. This year they’ve created a wonderland with a tree made from candy canes descending from their art deco ceiling. It really elevates running errands when you stroll past the twinkling lights on the way to the grocery store, hot chocolate in hand. I’ve teamed up with my Instagram-turned-real-life friend Landen Kerr to organize two special tours of our favorite Christmas lights, patisseries and places to pick up the best ornaments and one-of-a-kind gifts. If you would like to join us, information and booking details can be found here.

Food

Come December 1st, store windows in Paris are overflowing with cold champagne, salty oysters, foie gras, marron glacés (candied chestnuts) and all manner of chocolates, along with everything else you might ever need to indulge during the festive season. It’s so fun to stroll along and peek in all the patisserie windows, admiring the selection of bûche de Noël on offer, deciding which one to order. I like to take the kids with me to the market and explain what I’m buying, why it’s traditional (for example you put a clementine in each Christmas stocking because it represents Saint Nicholas’s generosity) and teach them the names in French and English, while the vendors slip them a little taste here and there. 

We always bake and decorate sugar cookies and I’m considering making a full gingerbread house this year. We’ll also make old fashioned apple pie with a lattice top, candied orange peel, and little meringue Christmas trees and Santa hats throughout December – I love a baking project.

It’s so lovely to bundle up and sit outside people watching in December, sipping mulled wine, and I do it every chance I get. I’m also planning to set sail on Le Bateau Apero, where you can eat raclette or tartiflette while sailing along the Seine, before joining a party on the river bank. Book in advance as they only sail once a month.

Ice-skating

I am a total klutz and shouldn’t be near any sort of winter sport except the most gentle of bunny slopes, but my daughter loves ice-skating at Christmas so I’ve found the perfect compromise – I’m taking her to the Plaza Athénée where there’s a very glamorous-looking ice skating rink set up just for children. Parents can enjoy the surroundings while sipping a festive cocktail before sharing a warm waffle or other sweet treat with the kids once they come off the ice. 


Going to the countryside

We’re spending the 24th and 25th of December with my husband’s family in the countryside, where he grew up, and there is always a debate on when to exchange gifts. In France Christmas Eve is the main event, with gifts and an incredible dinner, and Christmas Day is more low key (although a very indulgent long lunch is still common). Whereas in Australia Christmas Day is the time to open gifts (you’ve got to give Santa time to pass by) and to share a decadent meal with your family. So we compromise and do both. My mother-in-law pulls out all the stops for le Réveillon, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of seafood, snails, foie gras and lashings of champagne that continues until midnight, and we exchange some gifts. Then on Christmas Day we start with an aperitif at 11am while the children open their stockings, followed by a long lunch with roasted chapon (capon) and chestnuts, seasonal vegetables and, of course, a bûche de Noël that we usually buy from Arnaud Larher

My husband takes great joy in choosing the wine from the cellar with his father, before it is carefully decanted and served in his grandmother’s delicate old glasses, and we say a word for those we miss. I’m really hoping for some time to relax while the kids have a run around in the garden (a novelty for Parisian children) and some long walks in the forest nearby.

Traditionally Christmas is celebrated at home in France but there are some special places open on the 24th and 25th if you plan on eating out – but book ahead.

Alcazar (62 rue Mazarine, 75006) is in the heart of Saint Germain and the decor is divine. It serves modern French cuisine and great cocktails.

Arpege (84 rue de Varenne, 75007) by Alain Passard (84 Rue de Varenne, 75007) has 3 Michelin stars and serves sophisticated fine dining with a focus on seasonal vegetables grown in the restaurant’s kitchen gardens. It’s where my husband proposed to me. Email for bookings.

Le Train Bleu (Place Louis-Armand, 75012) is located in the Gare de Lyon Train station. The incredible belle époque dining room has hosted Salvador Dali, Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot (and Mr Bean).

La Coupole (102 boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014) is one of the most famous brasseries in town.The lively art deco dining room is part of the Montparnasse scene and is famous for its seafood.

Bouillon Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009) This legendary Paris restaurant is a cheap and cheerful place for a meal on Christmas. They don’t take reservations but service is quick and they get people in and out at high speed.

I would love to hear how you are spending the festive season in the comments and you can follow along on my adventures over on Instagram. Happy holidays!


37 comments

    • Pat Knight

    I loved your Christmas story!
    My son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren lived In Villennes for 10 years before they moved to Luxembourg. So I was in Paris several times at Christmas snd in l
    Lyon. My son took me to the Christmas markets one year.
    In west Des Moines Iowa we celebrate both Christmas Eve snd Christmas
    Day. Santa comes on Christmas morning but other gifts are opened after Christmas Eve mass. Then a light supper. Christmas Day is cinnamon rolls before opening Santa gifts. A big Christmas dinner of ham or prime rib or other later in the afternoon .
    I look forward to reading about the eeekdvto come.
    Pat Knight

      • Carol Gillott

      Thank you for the shout out Emily! So kind Your Christmas tour sounds great and Landen Kerr’s Instagram is a stunning view of Christmas in Paris! On Sunday, I’m taking an evening toots bus tour of the Christmas lights…very excited.

        • Emily Cunningham

        Hi Carol – very happy to share your art. I’ve seen the Toots tour please let me know how it is!

      • Emily Cunningham

      That sounds so lovely Pat. We make cranberry and orange zest rolls for Christmas morning too (a Smitten Kitchen recipe). Merry Christmas! Emily

    • Linda Beuret

    Emily, what a wonderful tale. You are a busy lady. We dream of Paris and are so thrilled to enjoy the season vicariously with you. Thanks.

      • Emily Cunningham

      Thanks Linda – hope wherever you are there are lovely holiday things to enjoy. Emily

    • Rachel Carter

    My goodness, I am in awe of your plans Emily. Thank you for sharing. It sounds like a really special Christmas. I will wave to Santa in shorts on your behalf from Sydney. Merry Christmas!

      • Emily Cunningham

      Oh yes please enjoy Christmas in Sydney for me! Have a wonderful time.

    • Susan Goldberg

    Another informative and helpful post. Although my family and I celebrate Chanukah, I enjoyed reading about how you and your family celebrate Christmas. Have a magical holiday season! ❤️

      • Emily Cunningham

      Happy Chanukah to you and your family Susan! A wonderful holiday season to you too.

    • Mardi Michels (eat. live. travel. write)

    What a lovely post Emily! I have spent many Christmases in Paris and it’s truly magical! Fingers crossed we get to the Southwest for Christmas this year – it’s also magical though on a smaller scale! Happy holidays to you and the family!

      • Monicak

      Ah those pictures!! Christmas in Paris sounds wonderful.
      Why isn’t chestnut more popular in US? Marron glaces is such a tasty treat but so hard to find it here.

        • Emily Cunningham

        Yes I had never heard of it until I moved here – and even here it’s not that easy to find outside of the holidays!

        • W D Wagner

        Chestnut blight killed most allAmerican chestnut trees in the 1940s. So no chestnuts here now.

          • david terry

          Done’t worry too much…….the American chestnut blight (which killed off most/all of the trees) where I’m from, in the Tennessee mountains, took most of its toll in the 1920’s/1930’s. Fortunately, the CHVI variant (so to speak) has been detected in both France and England (and a few other European countres). It doesn’t necessarily kill trees, since it allows cankers to heal. In short, the French don’t have to worry (as we did in the USA, where it was the predominant forest tree) about losing all their chestnuts. You’ll still have plenty for your Christmas needs. Save your big worries for your plane/sycamore trees (seen the Canal du Midi lately?…it’s horrible) sincerely, david terry

      • Emily Cunningham

      Thanks Mardi – hope you manage to get across… Happy holidays!

    • Roberta Isleib

    Thank you Emily for sharing your beautiful Christmas stories! I was hoping David would be inviting you back soon. Merry Christmas!

      • Emily Cunningham

      Thanks Roberta and Merry Christmas to you too.

    • jenniferc

    I am excited to visit Paris next week but sad I can’t join the left bank Christmas tour! I have booked a tour already for that day with Paris by Mouth, which I’m very excited about. Thank you for these wonderful Paris tips!

      • Emily Cunningham

      Oh their tours are amazing you will have a great time. Hope you enjoy!

    • Shelley

    Just got back from two weeks in Paris where many places had already started putting up their truly gorgeous Christmas decorations. Your photos were wonderful. Just a caution: our last lunch before leaving was at the delightful La Coupole where, despite having a 2 pm reservation, they made us wait an hour before seating us. That would be enough to spoil my Christmas dinner so watch out. Food was delicious though. Peace on Earth. Stay safe!

      • Emily Cunningham

      Good to know – thanks Shelley. Hope you had a wonderful trip to Paris.

    • Terry

    Wonderful description of Christmas in France! Thank you Emily the photos are terrific.

      • Emily Cunningham

      Thanks Terry, happy holidays!

    • jan

    Thanks so much Emily, brings back so many memories. Although I’m Australian, my family has always celebrated on Christmas Eve, perhaps to do with a French/Norwegian ancestry, and then a lunch on Christmas Day. Relishing the quiet and the leftovers in the days following.
    I’ll dream of roasted chestnuts and the exquisite Paris Christmas lights.
    A Merry Christmas and safe one to all.

      • Emily Cunningham

      Leftovers are the best. Merry Christmas!

    • Kameela

    What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. Paris is indeed beautiful at Xmas but throughout France they put a lot of thought into the food and decorations . Joyeuses Fêtes.

      • Emily Cunningham

      You are totally right – the whole of France really makes a huge effort which is so lovely. Happy holidays!

    • curious creator

    Thank you for your post! I just moved to Canada from 11 years in Europe (Netherlands and Switzerland). Lots of girl’s trips to Paris – I have some of the same photos you posted! I’m in Toronto now, and getting to know a totally new city. Exciting, but I really miss the quaintness of European life. Enjoy it to the max!

    • Charlène

    Hello, i like Christmas time with my family, it’s the best moment ever. Thanks for this interesting article. I like it. Charlène

    • linda

    wonderful blog! extra special since we can’t be there in person this year.
    Best wishes! happy new year! too!!

    • Ingrid Littmann-Tai

    Emily, with a Parisian mother, and having lived in Paris several times during my life, I have spent so many Christmas’s with some of the lovely traditions you have mentioned here. Alas we miss Paris and have not been in 2 years (yes due to Covid ). The lights, the oysters, the windows in the Dept stores, les crèche de Noel, the amazing food at les marchés a Noël (ok and the food at Picard!), the champagne, watching CanCan girls on TV , and then a weekend at the country house. Your plans sound lovely. Instead we are spending another Christmas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains where we have made our own traditions like skiing on Christmas Day & skating on frozen Mountain lakes but little details like a bûche de Noël, à gorgeous piece of pâté de foie gras or even a raclette or cheese fondue add some Frenchness to our family time. Thanks for sharing.

    • angela billows

    This sounds like a dreamy Christmas, worthy of a movie. Living in France, I know how much the French love their traditions, but there’s one I cannot stomach, and that’s the eating of foie gras. The cruelty imposed on the living birds to engorge their livers, I find intolerable in this day and age, especially when there are so many other delicious, less cruel alternatives. Some traditions, in my opinion, just aren’t worth the suffering they cause.

    • anna

    I’d love to know HOW you found your photographer – referral or an online search?

    Also I’ve been so grateful for video visits with friends as well but I made everyone use Signal instead of What’sApp. I don’t want our conversations and likenesses targeted for keywords and profiling. Signal protects it’s users from all that. Fyi!

    And this was an excellent post – thank you and happy holidays!

    • rr

    This post just sent me down a rabbit hole of buche de noel’s and I came across one that uses a type of Breton yogurt called, “Gwell”. Have you tasted this, David? Just curious about it.

    • ej

    Lovely article! I love how extravagant food is such a focus in all the stores here this time of year. A queston: Have you ever found a live Santa Claus for kids to visit here? Cheers!

    • Bonnie Groves Poppe

    Thank you! I live in Provence where there are many great traditions, but I loved the one Christmas I spent in Paris….. Oysters galore at the Bastille market, hot roasted chestnuts from street vendors, so many wonderful pastries, the windows at Galeries Lafayette and others. Hopefully I will do it again before long.
    bonnie near Carpentras

A

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