Monday, January 2, 2012

Noël a Clermont

This was the first Christmas I have ever spent away from the Midwest; for the last 29 years I have spent Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house or my husband’s parents house, and Christmas day has mostly been celebrated at my parent’s house. I’m not sure what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t this wave of homesickness (and by that I mean for the familiar, for I consider our apartment here in Clermont-Ferrand home) and increased sense of distance from family and the United States.

Being about a month away from my due date we decided early on that we wouldn’t be traveling, and were blessed with family choosing to come to us instead. Matīss, Roberts’s brother who visited us last Easter, and his girlfriend Indra arrived the evening before Christmas Eve, flying into Lyon and then taking the late train to Clermont. We learned another valuable lesson about travel in France; around the holidays it is better to book first class to guarantee a seat, the four hours spent aboard the train must have been cramped and tiring as Matīss wasn’t even able to get a seat. But our guests made it in good spirits despite an one-hour delay, and shortly after their arrival we were seated around the table digging into some local cheese and charcuterie.

With our guests and the Place de Jaude Christmas tree

Christmas Eve day was much more relaxed than ever before as most of the presents were wrapped and all that remained to be done was one final trip to the store for last-minute supplies. We took our guests for a tour of the Christmas sights in downtown, starting at Place de Jaude with its giant Ferris wheel and Christmas tree (whose lights and top had been repaired since the big wind storm), and on through the old section of town decked out in lights, finally arriving at the Marché de Noël for some roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and fried dough for the pregnant lady. After a ride on the petit train taking us through the rest of town we were home, just in time to grab a bite to eat before a short walk to Eglise Saint-Pierre les Minimes, the nearby church that we had visited for a friend’s son’s first communion.

Our next lesson was soon learned, arriving 15 minutes early was enough to guarantee a seat, but not enough for normal seating; the last remaining spots were all the way in the very front of the church in the corner with no view of the altar, the priest or any of the children participating in the service. Lauris, who had not yet napped, showed great patience for the first hour, making friends with some of the other three foot tall service goers. However, in the end it proved too much and we made our exit during communion. Maybe it was because of how little I was able to participate due to my lack of French, maybe it was because of the enormity of the church interior or maybe it was because of the lack of the familiar (such as the dimming of the lights and lighting of the candles during the singing of Klusā nakts, svētā nakts (Silent Night, Holy Night), but the feeling of inner calm I usually find in church on Christmas eve was missing this year. It was only later, sitting around the table surrounded by my family, with candles and the Christmas tree lighting the room and with a big Christmas dinner on the table that the Christmas spirit returned for me. Roberts led the singing of all the traditional Christmas carols, and it was late before we all retired to await the arrival of le Père Noël.


  1. It sounds like you had a great Christmas. I hope you are having a great New Year.

  2. After 15 yrs "on the road" with Lane's job, I'm thankful to have only travelled the 7 minutes or so to my parents' house this year. We only spent about 6 or 7 of those Christmases away from family but even having to travel the 8 or more hours to get to family for the holidays was not an easy feat. I disliked it. Our 1st and 2nd Christmases were spent away from family (although we saw some of them within a few days after) and I was extremely homesick. I probably cried not doing the typical Christmas Eve stuff that I was used to with my family.

    Sounds like you still managed to have a very good Christmas with the family that did come and visit you and hopefully next year you'll be back in the Midwest celebrating the typical Latvian-American Christmas again!

    As a side note, from my own history learned, if you want a seat towards the back of the church with a small child during Christmas Eve service, you must arrive a good 30 minutes early. We arrived about 30 minutes early to Mass this Christmas and the church was already half-full by that point. Emi still doesn't always cooperate and we need to be able to take her out on occasion.

  3. I can relate all too well to the wave of "familiar-sickness" right around the winter holidays every year. It's lovely to have warm memories of such strong Christmas traditions - there's a period of 48 hours where almost down to the minute I can literally think "Right now I'd be doing this". We've been working on creating our own traditions here, but so far it doesn't come close to feeling the same.

    Glad you were able to have some family close by, and sounds like you did pretty well on capturing some of the most important moments. :)


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