For me, winter gives us the best sense of how we should live our lives. In the open snow, do we need the luxury to enjoy ourselves?
One of my lecturers in France shared that he always waited for winter to… sleep! Winter is his favorite time, tuning out the outside world, curling in a secret corner, and sleeping without fear of anyone bothering. “Sleep freely to compensate for the mornings when the brain continuously fought against fatigue!”
My friend Charlotte talks about winter lovingly, though her winter hobbies (as a girl from a tropical country) make me shiver. She enjoys reading books on snow-covered mountains in the majestic Alps every morning. Imagine reading a book on the mountain when the first rays of sun gradually illuminate the white land. How amazing! And of course, you know that it takes half a day for tourists to reach your world. Faraway from Alsace, Charlotte drives about 5 hours to her hostel in Combloux village every year. She has become so familiar with this place that she knows every neighbor, road, and restaurant there. And, no matter where we are in that region, she can tell a few stories about the place.
While Charlotte must travel far to enjoy her winter, Cathy – another friend of mine – likes staying at her home in a quiet village near the Jura mountains on the Swiss border. Cathy chooses to stay in a remote area because her family doesn’t have a chance to go out in the bitter cold weather. It’s a great way for them to spend time together before her children grow up and move far away. That doesn’t surprise me from Cathy as she is the most caring French woman I’ve met.
Whenever she knows that I’m returning to Vietnam, she always prepares small gifts for the orphanage I often visit. Sometimes she gives me a suitcase full of surplus toothbrushes and toothpaste from her dental clinic. Sometimes the gifts are colorful pens and small bags she has made. From our first meeting, Cathy has taught me how to make my first macarons with the message “No matter how busy you are, spend time making cakes for your husband and kids on the weekend!”
The farther from Europe I live, the luckier I feel for having had these wonderful friends, being been close to them and enjoying each moment of winter there. After all, life can take the people I love or force us out of the familiar places; however, the happy moments we shared will stay forever.
I remember my first Christmas tree was a 50cm plastic pine tree. The three of us living together saved money to buy it from a Kruidvat thrift shop. At that time, for students like us, watching TV with a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows was luxurious, not to mention having a Christmas tree in the house.
One year later, I decided not to waste 20Euro on a plastic tree but create my own with books. Oprah: A biography by Kitty Kelley, 608 pages, was used as the trunk. Thinner ones were set on top as an invitation to passers-by saying, “Hey, read me please, I’m so thin.”
Do you feel that you’ve read enough books? Or do you need more motivation to read all the books you bought already? Why don’t you “plant” a Christmas tree like me? After that, set a deadline of one year to “harvest” it before you “plant” another during the next year. I love considering these books as surprising gifts hang on the Christmas tree. They urge me to tear all the wrap paper away to figure out what they are. On the other hand, they tell us to be patient, waiting until midnight
Winter is intriguing because it brings us something to look forward to. Wait for the dances of light when you are walking along the sparkling streets. Listen to the Galeries Lafayette shopping mall tell its fairy tales behind the glass. Wait to catch the scent of chestnuts in the town’s square. Wait to laugh out loud with to friend’s jokes while enjoying fondue Comtoise (cheese hot pot in Franche-Comté). Wait to sip a homemade apple cider the store owner who can’t remember our name among the thousands of visitors at the Christmas fair. And, wait to be with your loved ones, like other people, dating through winter.
A favorite of visitors and inhabitants in Paris is to visit famous shopping centers to watch the glass displays during the festive season. Printemps Haussmann, Galeries Lafayette, BHV, and le Bon Marché are some of them. Behind vivid glass window-panes are the latest collections and interesting characters.
Must-try European winter cuisine
+ Foie gras is one of the most popular dishes for French families on special occasions. This dish is fatty but not cloying. Foie gras is best served with bread or sautéd with fruit sauce and baked green apples.
+ Mulled wine is a favorite drink of Europeans, especially Germans. You can savor a cup of fragrant spicy mulled wine with oranges, cinnamon, anise, and cloves at the Christmas fairs.