I’ve known for a while that being abroad for an entire school year means missing important and valued events with family and friends.
Going to school out of state has prepared me for this, since I’ve already had to skip a cousin’s wedding for a finite exam (is there a worse reason?). I had to go to class while my family celebrated the Royal’s World Series win in Kansas City last fall. I never got to see any of the musicals my sister was in during high school.
But I’ve always been home for the holidays, and, this year, it snuck up on me how strange it was to see decorations start popping up around Aix-en-Provence and realize this is what my holiday season will look like this year.
Or not look like, considering Thanksgiving is not celebrated here.
My program anticipated us collectively missing pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes, so we had a group dinner out Thursday night. Even still, a big part of me can’t get over that I have to go to class on Thanksgiving. It’s blasphemy.
I’m trying to find some holiday spirit in different ways, as a result.
My roommate and I have already bought some Christmas decorations to put up around our house, and our host mom has made it feel even more homey by taking out some of hers.
Aix jumped right on the Christmas-capitalism train and set up little “chalets” lining the Cours Mirabeau with artisans and food vendors alike plying locals and tourists with handmade ornaments and pastries.
I was actually over the moon when I realized I wouldn’t have to go far at all to visit my first Christmas market, and just walking along the street admiring all the stuff I really don’t need to buy (but will probably buy anyway) makes me smile and feel the festivity starting to take over.
I’ve recently started eating a weekly dinner with a French family, and being in such a familiar environment has also instilled a little more cheer in me. Having a home-cooked and delicious meal with a couple kids around my age and their parents makes it a definite highlight of my week.
They even gave me a bottle of wine to take home in the name of learning about French culture, so I truly can’t find any downsides.
Last but not least, the friends I’ve found here serve as a fun little family and outlet for feeding all my lingering American desires.
We bake cookies and pies that the French would turn their nose up at and let each other know which grocery store sells ranch. We frequently meet up at the Anglophone-owned café in the Old Town and even watched a horror movie together in honor of Halloween.
Best of all, the Thanksgiving/Christmas food bash is just around the corner, and I’m preparing my stomach now. Basically, this year has been a testament to how necessary a sense of community and holiday cheer is to me this time of year.
It’s easy to take it for granted, but once you’re outside your comfort zone, it’s an essential to feel at home.
More in Travel
Travel columnist Rachel Rosenstock reflects on her semester in Aix-en-Provence.
Travel columnist Rachel Rosenstock makes a weekend trip to her favorite city.
Travel columnist Rachel Rosenstock visited Norway for the weekend.