This is it. The last 15 days. Christmas is now officially around the corner. And things are finally starting to feel christmassy.
Here in the Foodie household, we are pretty much ready, the tree and other decorations are up, only a few presents to get in, a letter to send to Santa (I know it's a bit late) and of course food to get in.
This year feels different to the other years though, I am actually enjoying the lead up to the Day. I have never been a big fan of Christmas for various reasons. My birthday falls around that time of year. And it has often been forgotten about (not by my mum and dad, thank god). I have also heard countless times the famous line 'It's for both Christmas and your birthday' (people born between Christmas and the New Year will know what I am talking about). Now don't think I'm greedy. I don't insist on 2 presents or a bigger one or anything of the sort. I have often been delighted with a 'double purpose' present. However, there have been years when I have felt a bit short-changed. Like the year I received a lovely white toiletry bag about 20 cm high (sorry, I'm from the continent, I don't do inches or feet or stones) with a lovely pink silk rose the size of my little fingernail on it (and my hands are very small). It was a nice item and it has served me faithfully. However, both Christmas and my birthday? Emmm... Maybe not.
Another memorable one was my 16th birthday / Christmas, when I received, from the same person might I add, a jumper and skirt that looked like one of the school uniforms you can find anywhere in Ireland. Now, we don't have uniforms in France and I have nothing against them, I think they're actually a good thing. This particular one was a knitted navy one. Knitted jumper and knitted pleated skirt. The loveliest touch was the lace collar and my name embroidered on the chest where the school logo thingy usually goes. Let me remind you I was 16. This lovely present was however worn...just once...for a play... where I was supposed to be a 6 year old school girl...I even have the picture to prove it!
Now, that particular person tried one year later to ask me: 'What do you want for Christmas?'. 'Great, I thought to myself, she's making progress. She's finally realized that asking can be a good idea.'. Being french, I love perfumes. I wear it everyday. I have my winter favourite and my summer favourite and all the other favourites. So there I went with a list of 5 different perfumes, ranging from cheap ones to more expensive, very conscious that Christmas required a budget and that cost could be a factor.
Just so you know, in France, we start the celebrations on Christmas Eve. The tradition is to have a huge meal (anything from 5 to 20 courses lasting anything from 2 to 5 hours) after Midnight Mass. My family is not very religious so, as many families in France do, we skip Midnight Mass and just get stuck in a little earlier in the evening. We also open some of the presents on Christmas Eve.
So, come Christmas Eve, I was looking forward to opening this particular present knowing that I would not be disappointed. How wrong was I!!! I opened the present and indeed found a bottle of perfume from a reputable designer / parfumeur. Not a perfume that was on my list but I am open to trying new things so took a smell. Now, how do I put it... It was comparable to an Air Wick spray, one of the old ones, that were designed to make you forget about any other smell and just overpower your nose with chemical fumes.'Perfumes react differently on the skin', I thought to myself. So still optimistic, I sprayed some on my wrist and hoped that the reaction would produce something I could live with. Not at first, not after 15 minutes either.. Dinner started,everybody looked like they were having a good time when I realized that I had been scratching my wrist quite a bit. I took a look and saw that I finally did get a reaction from the perfume. Lots of little red itchy spots.. Not only did she pick a perfume that smelled like a chemical loo freshener but she picked the only one I am allergic to!
I went back to visit that person a few days later and asked her if there was any possibility of maybe going back to the shop and explaining the problem, in order to get a refund or another perfume. To which the reply was: ' Well your mother got some perfume too, why don't you two swap.' The poor perfume stayed on the bathroom shelf for some time. Until my mother decided that it had gone past its prime and sent it to the end of the bin.
Now, I can hear some people in the background going: 'It's the thought that counts'. Don't I know it! If that's any excuse, I was young! I have applied that philosophy ever since to any present I get (especially to the 3 embroidered napkins received last year, there are 4 of us even though one only wears bibs for now!). I also need to state in my defense that I am not the only one applying that philosophy. My brother also had to when he was given a battery charging kit when he did not have a car (he had crashed a month earlier and the car had to be written off). So do my mother and aunties who predictably get a basket of fruit (loads and loads of fruit) with a sell by date of December 28th every year. So do my father and uncles who invariably get a box of Ferrero Rocher and a plant (beats the socks if you ask me, but the living room is starting to look a bit like a jungle).
So, in short, although it's the thought that counts, please try and stick to the list. If you can't stick to the list, a voucher goes a long way, no matter what value is on it. And most of all, People, please do not forget to make that phone call on the day of the actual birthday, whether you got them a present for Christmas only, or a double purpose one, or no present at all even, and say 'Happy Birthday'.
After all, as they say, it's the thought that counts...
P.S: If you are worried that the person in question might get offended by this, don't. She does not speak a word of english that's one of the advantages of being bilingual. Also, I have had great Christmases and birthdays, especially last year, and despite the 3 napkins, when I turned 30 and got engaged.