Our Holiday Traditions
As we are originally from the French Alps, our “family holiday celebrations’ differ in some subtle ways with mainstream American traditions. Yet over the years, we have weaved them with the local customs and today we have something quite unique, very healthy and fun!
Typically, French folks are more New Year-centric than Christmas-oriented; as a result, New Year’s celebrations are a much bigger deal; as an example in the old country, Happy New Year wishes can last the whole month of January and most people would feel slighted if you forgot to present your very best wishes to them. With these notes of caution in mind, I will attempt to explain how the Holiday Season typically unfolds for us…
Because of my upbringing, of my entire career and my playful retirement years, skiing occupies the centerpiece of our Holiday Season. Even though we can ski all winter long, we make sure to come out and mark this celebratory period by leaving our own ski prints on the local slopes; some might call them “garlands,” but to us, they are always very serious tracks!
During the past five years, our daughter Charlotte, who lived in California for many years, was in the midst of this Holiday fun. She could almost come on the spur of the moment and be with us after a short, ninety-minute flight. However, things have changed; after taking a new position in our Nation’s Capital, in early November; she had not accrued enough vacation time to make the visit all the way to Utah worth her while. This will have to wait until next winter season.
Luckily, our son Thomas, his wife Juliette and our grandson Finn live nearby in Salt Lake City and were present the Sunday before Christmas to mark their return to the slopes. This day, as it often does, concluded with a wonderful Raclette meal, similar to the delicious dish available at the Fireside Dining in the Empire Canyon Lodge at Deer Valley.
We do Raclette, because it is a hearty meal, perfect for winter, and our son and his wife are vegetarians. Now, I will have to digress and explain once and for all what that delicious food is all about. That alpine specialty goes back a very long way; it was already mentioned in some medieval writings as a particularly nutritious dish consumed by peasants living in the mountains of Valais, a French-speaking canton of Switzerland, as well as their French counterparts living on the other side of the Alpine divide, where I hail from.
The name itself comes from the French verb “racler” which mean “to scrape.” In that case, it is cheese that is been scraped from the open surface of an eighteen-inch, half-wheel of Raclette cheese, which open surface is heated until it almost flows into your plate when scraped down with a knife. Now, you can understand why most of our family entertainment revolves around a wheel of Raclette cheese…
This vital detail leads us to Christmas Eve, that took us to the Salt Lake Valley were a wonderful dinner and present unwrapping took place, and the event revolved around our four-year old grandson. The excitement was palpable and the spurs of joy endless, as the many presents got unwrapped… This year, a perfectly timed snow storm made for driving down to the Valley a bit more interesting, keeping me perfectly focused on the road.
I must confess that my wife and I didn’t have the fortitude to wait until Christmas Eve for opening our own presents. We were a bit concerned about the upcoming roll-over of the ancient Mayan calendar on December 21, and didn’t want to take any chances, so our own presents have been put to good use since the beginning of the month. Let’s call our singular practice a “test,” just to make sure that we had the right presents from the get go…
This said, on Christmas Eve, I received a special present from my son that has to do with DNA and will finally tell me where I come from (besides France) once it has been analyzed by some Silicon Valley laboratory. The rest of the evening was spent watching our grandson responding to his new toys and playing with most of them.
After December 25, we got a short reprieve during which there is always more skiing, additional great snow (another Deer Valley Holiday tradition), there are a few parties, here and there, but far less than when I used to be professionally active, and there is barely any room for celebrating my birthday sandwiched somewhere between Christmas and the New Year, just before we tip into a brand new year.
On New Year’s Eve, we may go bowling with my son and his family, watch the ball fall in Times Square and go to bed early so we can go skiing on New Year’s morning… Granted, there’s always room for a fine meal and a delightful sip of Champagne…
By the time 2013 rolls over, we’ll have long been “party-exhausted” and won’t have much energy left for celebration. It will then be time for some serious work; our winter ski season will finally begin in earnest!