I took the RER B there on Christmas Eve day and I stayed overnight at Mariene's grandmother Therese's hundred-year-old amazing house. It was HUGE (Mariene and I had our own floor and I had my own room), and that was only the part I saw because there's even a whole section that she rents to someone else. She's lived there forever and all of Mariene's aunts and uncles grew up in that house, which is cool because I love seeing what other people have in their houses (not to mention what other people living in different countries hold on to).
(Mariene and the tree).
(Mariene's 90ish-year-old grandmother's boyfriend lives in Israel, and he had recently sent her a crate full of 30 Israeli grapefruit. I had one, it was delicious).
For Christmas Eve dinner, we went to Mariene's aunt Cecile's house. Mariene's mom has MANY brothers and sisters, so I got to meet a LOT of people over these two days. Christmas Eve dinner was a smaller affair though -- her aunt, uncle, three cousins, Therese, her cousin's friend from Tunisia, her uncle's student from Cameroon, Mariene and me. "Small" affair though it was, it was still FULL of food and cute Christmas decorations --starting with the napkins folded like poinsettias on our plates, to the individual Toblerones for each guest. There was delicious fish wrapped with shrimp and salmon, amazing homemade foie gras, CHESTNUTS, and LOTS AND LOTS OF DESSERT. There was also a lot of alcohol...I definitely drank more during the hors d'oeurves than I had ever had to drink during any meal. I wanted to take pictures of everything but I decided not to be weird about it. Trust me though, everything looked amazing and tasted even better.
It was also a really nice night because, even though everyone in that family seemed to speak English or had lived abroad (Therese was telling me about everywhere she had lived in the States, including her favorite place, New Jersey), I had my first real opportunity since being here in France this time around to concentrate on speaking French. Therese even told me that I spoke without an accent, which was flattering, though I'm not inclined to believe her because when she said that she was refusing to eat and only accepting alcohol).
French people have slightly different Christmas traditions, including that they tend to open their presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, so we got to take part as well after dinner -- Mariene's family even gave me a really cute set of Sephora things, which was way too nice of them! Another tradition they were telling me about is that they only put the baby Jesus in their nativity scenes (they it the "creche", as in crib or daycare) at the last possible second...never having my own nativity set at home, I don't know if Americans do that too, but I thought that was interesting.
We left their house around 11PM painfully stuffed, and that wasn't even going to be the big meal of the weekend. The next morning Therese made stove-top espresso for me and we chatted (in French!) about our favorite Jewish holidays, and then Mariene and I helped set up extra tables and chairs because there were going to be around 30 of us that day.
The Christmas day meal was delicious too...more foie gras, potatoes, more chestnuts (my favorite!) and castrated roosters (apparently they get extra fat??), more yule log-shaped cakes from the night before and LOTS AND LOTS OF CHOCOLATE AND ALCOHOL. And Mariene's grandmother and two aunts all had presents with my name waiting for me -- again, so generous and completely unnecessary but very appreciated. And because there were so many people there on Christmas day I had even more of an opportunity to practice my French, which was great. Even though I knew they all spoke English, it was really nice of them to humor me and let me practice. Since I was the only Californian, everyone asked me where I was from exactly, and the specifity of their responses was really funny: "Los Angeles? Oh yes, I did my post-doctoral work at UC Santa Cruz!" "Ahh, of course, I've been to Pasadena and Arcadia!" "Burbank...Tim Burton!"
Anyway, everyone was lovely and it was so nice to experience life outside of Paris and Clamart for a few days.