Joyeux Noël from Nantes, France

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Christmas market in the city center Pau Barbosa ’18

This is the first installment of Pau’s series on her exchange experience in Nantes, France.
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The sleigh bells are ringing halfway across the world in Nantes, France. In the country known for its food, desserts, and boulangeries, Christmas is never too far away. 
Beginning in November, the city center in Nantes, France sets up a Christmas market with various stands ranging from jewelry and hand-crafted gifts to hot cocoa and churros. 
My host family and I decorated the house with garland, stockings, a nativity scene, and a Christmas tree. We also went to a Christmas market hosted by the École Saint Jean XXIII, a primary school where two of the family’s kids go to school.
The whole neighborhood and school community of the École Saint Jean XXIII in France gathered together to buy homemade gifts such as jams, muffins, bracelets, and picture frames before listening to the children sing Christmas carols. With a sea of red Christmas hats and hot chocolate, Christmas never seemed so soon.
At the school La Perverie Sacré Coeur, the hallways and classrooms are decorated with lights. The day before the holiday break, the school serves a traditional Christmas meal at lunch, which included waffles for dessert. My class organized a secret Santa between us and the ULIS class, a special needs class at La Perverie for handicapped children, for the last day. 
Christmas is the talk of the house, and has been since the first day of December. They set up a chocolate advent calendar, and everyday someone new gets to open it. Although I will be home for Christmas, talking about their plans is exciting and gets me into the Christmas spirit.
On the evening of December 24, they attend a mass and then have an early dinner at their house with other family members. That same night, “le passage de Père Noël” takes place. This is when Père Noël, or Santa Claus, passes and so presents are handed out and exchanged. 
Also on Christmas Eve, as part of a traditional French meal, my host family prepares oysters and foie gras as appetizers, a big turkey stuffed with chestnuts, and a log-cake French dessert called “la bûche de Noël.”
Spending part of the most wonderful time of the year here has allowed me to learn so much about the French culture. In the United States, Christmas is about taking the time to be with family and the people who care for you, and, in France, that does not change. Although traditions are different, they about spending time with family. 
– Pau Barbosa, Staff Writer