I don’t have any Christmas movie traditions, but if I did Arnaud Desplechin’s Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale) would be on the list. Holidays are a vehicle for bringing dysfunctional families together, and the Vuillards of Un Conte de Noël are collectively off-kilter enough to transcend the film clichés. With traces of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, the film recounts one family’s attempted reconciliation in light of a bone marrow transplant, doused in dark humor and very little holiday spirit.
The film is also a window into a traditional French Christmas, with this one held in the industrial city of Roubaix in northern France. While Christmas in France entails the same activities as everywhere else (namely, lots of eating), there are some differences in the execution that I would love to incorporate into our festivities here.
Thanksgiving may eclipse Christmas dinner as the most important meal of the year in the US, but in France Christmas is the time to roll out the culinary red carpet. Stuffed turkey is the traditional centerpiece, and this must be exciting for people who haven’t been picking at a turkey carcass since the end of November. What I personally appreciate is the lineup of gourmet foods as appetizers, snacks and sides: oysters, foie gras, smoked salmon, caviar, and escargots. These luxuries make the feast even more special. Bûche de noël, however, is one French Christmas tradition that has thankfully made its way into our home.
When I was in Paris during the leadup to Christmas three years ago, I quickly picked up on the differences between French and American decorations. French decorations are more traditional and also more restrained, with lots of lights, candles and winter foliage. No blow-up Santas or that freaky yeti thing (I still don’t understand what that is). I love the simple and elegant line of candles going down the Vuillard’s table.
I’m not sure if this is traditional in France, but I like how the Vuillards dress up on Christmas Eve - it gives the evening an air of formality and dignity even while the dinner descends into chaos. And no matter how young or old we are, we all want to look like Catherine Deneuve in this dress.
Good champagne, and lots of it. Bonus points if you take the bottle outside (it’ll stay cold!)