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December 25, 2001
Paris: Christmas (Russell)

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Christmas greetings from the Paris Hôtel de Ville (city hall)

The December 24-25 edition of USA Today has a headline that reads "Holiday Spirit Survives in a Changed World."  Although the story is about a very different situation, the headline describes our own sentiments as well.  Despite being halfway around the world and far away from our loved ones, we have made every effort to have a normal family Christmas celebration.

We actually began our Christmas planning a couple of months ago, when we had to decide where we were going to spend Christmas.  We had thought about both London and Vienna, but Cameron and Joss insisted on Paris.  Now that we are actually here, we have been surprised by how low-key the Parisians celebrate Christmas.  Although the shoppers and crowds are out in number, there are no blatant commercial decorations in store windows or Christmas muzak blaring all over the place.   Christmas continues to be celebrated more as a religious holiday in this predominantly Catholic country.

With a temporary residence, little money, and no extra space, we have decorated our little apartment with lots of improvisation.  Our Christmas tree is a $2.50 eight-inch bush, adorned with a homemade popcorn string.  Joss made our wreath from a hanger and plastic bags.  Other decorations include glitter-covered pinecones and beaded strings.  Cameron and Joss made their own "stockings" by drawing on pieces of paper and then taping them together.  And the boys spent days making elaborate homemade presents for dad.

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"Astérix" advent calendars and homemade decorations

We kept our touring day short on December 24th so that we could go to the American Cathedral for service at 5:00 PM.  The church was packed full of people; and it was strange after so long to hear not only English, but an American accent.  The non-denominational Anglican service itself was wonderful, with carols and candles.  The choir consisted of only five young people, but with their incredibly angelic voices and the resonance of the cathedral they sounded like many more.  There were memorable moments, such as when one of the acolytes marched in with the crucifix, set it into the stand at the altar, then watched with horror as it crashed to the floor (after being restored upright, it remained rather bent for the rest of the service), or when one of the parishioners accidentally spilled wine all over the communion rail.

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The American Cathedral in Paris

Back at the apartment for Christmas Eve, we watched the only holiday show we had, "Mr. Bean's Christmas," and ate homemade popcorn.  Out of the blue, Joss surprised us by declaring, "I know who Santa Claus is.  He's dad and mom."  Gail had a long conversation with him about why that was impossible.  Later, as we turned out the lights, Russell declared that Santa would be very sad to visit two boys who longer believed in him.  Out of the darkness, Cameron cried, "One of them still does!"

But Santa remained true to his word, and the boys awoke on Christmas morning to find their "stockings" full.  They actually stayed in bed reading for awhile -- without even peeking at their stockings -- until they decided that it was late enough to wake the parents.  We had a wonderful morning of opening presents and sharing family time.  In the afternoon, the boys played their new Game Boy games, Russell updated the Web site, and Gail cooked.  With no oven, she nonetheless put together an amazing Christmas dinner of "roast" pork, stuffing, couscous, corn, and homemade apple sauce.  Dessert was a Yule log cake from the local patisserie.

We didn't have a white Christmas, but we certainly had a chilly one.  And tomorrow, we will leave Paris and set out into the coldest German winter in 100 years.  (Over the last several days, drivers in southern Germany were stranded for up to 19 hours due to the snowbound traffic -- luckily, we're heading for northern Germany).

From Gail, Russell, Cameron, and Joss, we wish all of you a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and warm thoughts!

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