Bonjour mes amis,
At my first Christmas, I was 3 months old. A snapshot of me in my mother’s arms says on the back, “Looking at the Christmas Tree – Dec. 59.” The lights must have dazzled me.
We used real candles on the tree back in those days. The trees were scrawnier then, so it was easier to use candles without burning the house down than it would be now. We always had some full buckets of water on hand, just in case. My Dad made the star on top out of a tin can and the straw ornaments must have come from my mother’s German relatives.
For my third Christmas, we were in Cincinnati at my American grandparents’ house, but we still had real candles on the tree. I loved the popping sound the plastic chain made when I clicked and unclicked the pieces together and apart.
Back in France, I remember my father taking me to the church next door at Christmastime to look at the crèche. I remember being very awed by it. The church had rows and rows of the wooden caned chairs that French churches have instead ofpews.
Our last Christmas in Paris was in 1965. We were delighted with our American Indian themed costumes and our tear-off calendars – my brother’s was in the shape of a bear and mine in a red cone shape that represented Santa Claus. Note the paper and popcorn chains on the tree that we had helped make.
We probably got the idea from a book we had, and I still have, called “Favorite Christmas Songs and Stories.” An American relative must have sent it. I had memorized “The Night Before Christmas” and could recite it from start to finish, in English. At school, our teachers were puzzled when we drew fireplaces with stockings hanging from them instead of shoes next to the fireplace, as is the tradition in France. Our parents had to explain.
And I was thrilled with my new roller skates. That’s me wearing the skates and my Indian regalia as I watch my brother open his presents. I also tried out his drummer’s hat, which my Dad made, and his new drum. I was quite disappointed I couldn’t do a drum roll like they did in the Bastille Day parade. The sticks just went thump thump thump.
The last Christmas I remember well was on the ship SS Bremen that was taking us to the United States for the final time. We had sailed from Cherbourg on December 5, 1966, the day after my aunt’s wedding and were on the high seas for a week or so. Our parents passed our presents to the Santa onboard, who then presented them to us. I got a pretty doll with eyelids that moved, but was heartbroken once we unpacked in Cincinnati and my beloved teddy bear, “Petit Nounou,” was nowhere to be found. My mom had thrown him out before we left Paris because he was too dirty. I never played with the doll.
Christmas was never quite the same after that. We kept having real candles on the tree for a while until we became Americanized enough to buy colored strings of lights. Today, I use electric “candles” on my tree to remind me of my childhood Christmases, and German straw Christmas ornaments. And I just now realized why I bought one of my favorite tin folk ornaments: it is a red cone shape representing Santa Claus.
Travel back in time and make your own memories in Paris! Join us in June 2017 for our Papa's Paris Tour in which we meet Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Call me for an individualized quote, 10% reduction if offered as a gift by Dec. 30: 914-909-5079.