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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All I want for Christmas is a nap please Santa!
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.
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.
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!