Christmas caught me by surprise this year. I was quite happily going about my day until just before lunchtime on Christmas eve when I realised that all the preparations were being made for a huge dinner that night. The French celebrate early, with a large, Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and give all their presents then too.
The kitchen was already well under way with preparations, but I hadn’t really noticed because all my duties revolve around serving dinner at the moment. Instead of the usual place settings, the tables were decorated in appropriately for the occasion. Red cloth, serviettes, a sprinkling of snow and sparkly stars, extra glasses, it all looked very festive.
The children were fed early, to allow their parents time to enjoy their meal in peace. Just as they were finishing their meal there was a knock at the window and Papa Noel was there in his red and white outfit with a big fluffy white beard. He came in and found a comfy chair in front of the fire and began to hand out presents. Every one gathered round, the children, already over excited by an afternoon in the snow and family present opening before dinner, didn’t really know what to do, they were jumping about shouting ‘Papa Noel’, ‘Papa Noel’, looking at their parents then checking that he was still there. He produced present after present from a large sack, calling out every name in the room, all the guests, children, helpers and staff got one. He wished everyone a Happy Christmas, the french simultaneously burst into song as he left, singing a great festive song, he had a small glass of wine and was gone.
Several minutes later, Joe, one of the helpers returned to the room, still wearing his santa hat and continued helping with the evenings entertainments, mission accomplished.
Canapes of pate, salmon, cheese and celery and sausage rolls were served along with a kir, to get the evening started. Everyone was then seated at the long table for the Christmas meal. It was delicious. Cauliflower soup followed by prawn cocktail, roast turkey with all the trimmings, roast parsnips and potatoes, mashed sweet potato, carrots with garlic, savoy cabbage in a white sauce and lardons, bread and cranberry sauce and lashings of gravy.
Traditionally english fare, we had to explain several of the dishes and show the way with the gravy. It started at the far end of the table with several french people taking a spoonful and carefully tipping it over their meat. It soon passed through an english group who poured from the jug until their plates were awash, by the time it reached the other end of the table the original recipients were asking for more. Bread sauce is a wierd one, why would anyone take perfectly good bread and turn it into a white mush and serve it with roast meat? very strange, and jam? jam with a roast? I am sure that they do similar things in french cuisine but cranberry sauce was approached with a certain amount of caution.
A gin and tonic sorbet was then served in wine glasses and I am sure that most people thought that was the end of the meal. Delightfully refreshing, cool and a great break within the whole christmas dinner meal. No sooner than it was finished than the Christmas puddings appeared, unfortunately not flaming, but impressive none the less, supported by brandy sauce and custard all in proper British quantities.
Cheese and coffees were served but I saw none of that, with 30 plus place settings to wash up, along with all the kitchen tidying, Liis and I had more than enough to contend with. Joe, Marcos and Hawys also chipped in, even though they had been working hard through their shifts during the rest of the day.
We got done soon after the guests had retired for the night and relaxed in front of the fire with a well earned drink and a sneaky smoke up the chimney. It had begun to snow outside, a stillness enveloped the valley and slowly, through the night, everything was covered with a clean white blanket of snow ready for Christmas morning.