By Erin Berard
Find a comfortable seat, wrap yourself up in your softest scarf or blanket, close your eyes, and imagine yourself walking down your favorite street in Paris in December, maybe the Right Bank Rive Droite, maybe the Left Bank Rive Gauche, maybe you’ve been there, maybe not yet…
Sunlight reflecting off the wet sidewalks outside of cafés noisy with the sounds of steaming expresso machines smells of roasting, slightly charred chestnuts, shellfish being elaborately terraced in the ice next to champagne bottles at sidewalk bistros, the intoxicating aroma of buttery croissants baking, elaborate florist windows transformed into winter wonderland curiosity shops…
Take an inhale, a long exhale, open your eyes. While Paris is always a good idea, why not await your next trip by bringing some French traditions home for the holidays.
DIY IDEAS TO FRENCHIFY YOUR HOLIDAY SEASON
Make your own Papillotes de Noël, the beloved traditional and colorful glossy foil-wrapped holiday chocolates filling French grocery aisles from early November through New Year’s.
Take the fortune of a fortune cookie, add the divine richness of filled chocolate, praline, ganache, nougats, almond paste, then feel the childhood excitement of beating your sibling to the toy in the cereal or cracker jack box.
Over 200 years old, papillote history is as grand as its packaging, taste, and surprise contents. Their creation dates to 1790 when Lyon-based pastry chef Sieur Papillot discovered his employee had been stealing beautifully wrapped sweets and tucking love notes in them to give to his crush down the street. After letting the employee go, chef Papillot adopted the idea for his own and starting adding jokes, riddles, quotes and drawings to his candies.
Marketing evolves as some of today’s papillotes even offer small bang snap firecrackers!
To make your own Papillotes de Noel, you are not limited to chocolates, you can simply embellish your traditional food gifts (bread, cookies, jams, etc.) with special gift wrapping (cellophane, foil, tissue, origami paper, ribbons) with a surprise personalized message, quote, drawing, photo, joke, poem, promise, memory, or clue tucked inside.
Warm up your holidays by inviting French Christmas market ambiance and flavors into your home with hot mulled wine, spice bread pain d’épices, and Alsatian cut-out sugar cookies known as bredele.
Typically, in December, every mid-size to a major city in France hosts in its center square or shopping district a Christmas market marché du Noël, a mini chalet city hosting local artisanal craft and food vendors. The Disneyland equivalent of French marchés du Noël is Strasbourg, which transforms into the Capital of Christmas when the entire city rolls out the red carpet in holiday glory. Local specialties vary from city to city but no Christmas market is without at least one hot mulled wine vin chaud stand. After browsing the market, your cold feet may now be numb, your eyes tearing, and your nose red but somehow your senses still move your feet towards the steaming kettle of delicious spiced wine. One sip is like a hug from Santa. Whether you are a fan of red or white wine, enjoy coming up with your favorite recipe using ours below as a starting point…
Even though it’s hot and spiced, it must be paired! Discover the tradition and variety of Alsatian bredele cookies, whose simple 14th-century recipe of butter, sugar, flour, eggs, has withstood the test of time and modernized to include new shapes and additions (spices, nuts, citrus, peanut butter, chocolate). For more inspiration visit Bredele.fr.
Bring home the illumination of Paris’s festively lighted avenues and rural France’s village traditions to your home.
Some claim you see French pharmacies from outer space, by their blinking green plus signs, they may in fact outnumber the density of Starbucks in central Manhattan. It comes as no surprise that starting in early December, public holiday light illuminations reign in the season from Paris’ grandest boulevards and shopping districts to small, rural villages. What makes French illuminations so special is their nod to the local people and traditions, a celebration of shared history and community. Create a tradition of your own this year, give a gift to yourself or a neighbor by outlining your windows in twinkly lights, get your family together and light up a tree in your yard. Give a gift of a strand of lights to your neighbors to do the same. Pretty soon, you will have started your own holiday village tradition.
Turn gift wrapping from a dreaded task to your newest talent. Just as the French have the reputation of understated style, so too does French gift wrapping, otherwise known as paquets-cadeaux. Less is more, muted paper colors, often paper gift envelopes, instead of handled bags, matched with a special ribbon (raffia or taffeta) or natural element (a sprig of rosemary, thyme or lavender, dried flowers or holly), to communicate an extra thoughtfulness, no matter how tiny the gift.
When shopping in Paris, the entire demeanor of the boutique owner can switch instantly when you say three magic words “C’est pour offrir.” It’s for someone else, a gift. The same person who two seconds ago told you to not touch the display, and that you have 5 minutes before they close for lunch, is the same now beaming you a smile, telling you, not asking, that you will be receiving a paquet-cadeau complimentary gift wrapping. The exact opposite happens in the US.
Why not try this year to give some intention and attention to your gift wrapping and say “Non, merci,” to industrial-sized roll choices of metallic tartan plaid or garishly bright red and green Santa and Rudolf landing on the moon. For inspiration guaranteed to make you recycle your plastic bin of last year’s gift wrap, check out our recent review of the Paquet Cadeau Best Holiday Wrapping Paper.
Bring love and luck to the world who needs it more than ever, hang your mistletoe!
French is the language of love, and we all know the culinary benefits of French oak both in aging wine and producing truffles, so how do you explain that the French love mistletoe but not for kissing underneath? During the holidays, they sell it everywhere, on roadsides, florists, city street corners, better yet, they tie it on gifts! Typically, they hang it above doorways to bring luck for the coming year. We vote for creating your own Franco-American tradition and bring your home and the world a little more love and luck in 2021.
Makes one 1/2 Gallon (2 Liters)
8 ½ cups of dry red wine (Beaujolais, Burgundy, or Côtes du Rhône) OR dry white wine (Viognier or Dry Riesling)
1 peeled orange
½ peeled lemon
½ vanilla bean
1 ½ cup sugar (300 grams)
3 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise
Brewed black tea (Earl Grey)
Grand Marnier or Cointreau
You can use a regular stovetop pan or a crockpot, start warming only the wine on low heat.
Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves and cover, letting it continue to cook on low heat.
When you see the wine begin to steam, releasing alcohol, then add 1 cup of sugar (200 grams), taste and then add more until you reach your desired sweetness level.
Add the orange, lemon, vanilla bean and let simmer for an hour (do not boil).
Once you have your desired sweetness level, you may add up to ¼ cup or more to taste of your favorite liquor such as brandy, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or dark rum.
Note: If you only use one bottle of wine 750ml, use only 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar.
Don’t forget to dress up for the occasion! You may be at home, but you can still dress up!
FRANCOPHILE HOLIDAY FACTOIDS
Did you know that
1 – Over 400 million papillotes are sold in France each year.
2 –Typically the French refrain from wishing anyone Happy New Year Bonne Année until January 1st and after, as it is supposed to bring bad luck. Until New Year’s Day, they typically say Best Wishes Meilleurs Vœux or Merry Christmas Joyeux Noel or Happy Holidays Bonnes Fêtes de Fin d’Année.
3 – The 2021 winter shopping sales in France last for five weeks and begin Wednesday, January 6th and end Tuesday, February 9th.
*This post includes affiliate links. I make a small commission off of items purchased through my links. merci!