Ian Moore: bringing British traditions to a French Christmas
PUBLISHED: 13:37 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 13:37 20 December 2016
Ian Moore ensures British Christmas traditions are observed while enjoying Christmas in France with his wife’s French family
Tradition is important. Take Shakespeare for instance; Shakespeare plays should involve actors in tights, ruffs around their necks and be performed in the language the play was written in. I want none of this ‘based on…’ stuff; no leather jackets, piercings or modern slang. I want to see tradition. I’m the same with Christmas, Christmas is all about tradition and what’s become a festive tradition since we moved to France is that Christmas is always chez Moore.
On the face of it that may appear quite daunting. My wife’s French family is bigger than if all the Walton children had gone on to have really, really big families – there’s literally hundreds of them – and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can see anything between 20 and 30 descend on us for a couple of days. That’s 20 or 30 people, who aren’t shy about their opinions on food; nervewracking days indeed, which means that whenever I put a plate out in front of the throng, I feel like a contestant on Masterchef, nervously awaiting the verdict.
Christmas Eve in France takes some getting used to. It almost takes priority over Christmas Day in terms of importance, and my theory for this is that, as usual, it’s all about food. The Christmas Day menu is pretty much determined by tradition – and all the better for that obviously – whereas Christmas Eve, the réveillon, can be anything and, therefore, seems to generate more excitement. Now that’s all very well, but the problem with the réveillon is that it never ends! Guests will gather from all over the country and so dinner very rarely starts before 11pm and – this being a French meal – goes on for hours, seriously eating into ‘Father Christmas’ time. By four in the morning, ‘Father Christmas’ – chores finally done and young children at last asleep – is a broken man and desperately in need of a lie-in, which he isn’t going to get obviously.
Christmas Day is slightly different. Perhaps it’s guilt at having kept the host and hostess up so late, or maybe they just don’t trust my cooking, whatever it is they all pitch in. Someone will bring oysters complete with a team delegated to open them; the salmon will be brought by someone else and prepared; my wife will have made the foie gras, my mother-in-law will prepare the turkey, me the veg and others will have brought or made the cheese, the bûche, the cake, fruit salad, green salad, champagne, red wine, sweet white wine, dry white wine, salmon-specific wine… the list is endless; and it’s a serious business. Which is where the British tradition causes conflict.
I insist, every year, that crackers are pulled before a morsel is eaten. That jokes, the worse the better, are read out; novelty ‘gifts’ are investigated and, worse of all I think for my French guests, that paper crowns are worn. I suspect that it denies the meal its required solemn dignity, but they are worn begrudgingly and puns explained painstakingly, to the point of lending them a gravitas they don’t deserve. Believe me, I’m a professional stand-up comedian, and like all of my colleagues have suffered the clichéd tumbleweed moments, but there is a special kind of silence that greets you when trying to explain a Christmas cracker pun to a Frenchman.
“What do you call a man with a pole through his leg?”
“You see, knee is genou…”
“No. Almost. Rod is another word for…”
“Can we just eat please Ian?”
And then, later, comes the strangest French tradition of all. They don’t have a Boxing Day! The best day of Christmas for my money, yet the French start packing up straight after dinner on the 25th because it’s back to work on the 26th. I’ll never get used to that. No Boxing Day? That really is crackers.