It’s Christmas!! The expectation would build in our house like an impending storm in a film. The preparations started early, and the excitement built. In the Stock Brun Berhaut household, Christmas was our favorite time of year. There were letters to Santa, presents, decorations and fancy food, maybe even trips away, and lots of other good stuff every year. It was that simple!
Our first Christmas all together, 1994, was probably the best time that we spent together with Marie-Hélène’s family. They came to spend Christmas with us at Le Tahu: grand-père, her father, from Btittany and her brother Denis and his then wife Chantal from Paris with their children Cédric and Bertil. Our four children with their two made for an excitable group when it was time for the presents!
Christmas Eve featured a dress-up dinner, with champagne for all and Marie-Hélène in a little black dress. Grand-père was at his most charming, Denis and Chantal put aside the differences that would tear them apart within the year, and we began the process of getting to know each other in the warm ambiance of a candlelit dinner served on Marie-Hélène’s best place settings.
I remember feeling very welcome in this new family, and thinking that the Christmas which we were sharing so enthusiastically boded well for the future.
There were a lot of positive things happening when Marie-Hélène and I were first together. The children were all doing well in the school they now shared. Our little community, Hermeray in the forest of Rambouillet, seemed happy to greet us, and we had discovered the splendors of the cathedral at Chartres, not 40 minutes away. Paris was less than an hour away in the other direction, an easy drive to our favorite spots from the last few years.
We even got over a minor glitch that Christmas Eve, with Chantal’s help. The Berhauts typically opened their presents after dinner on Christmas Eve, and the Stocks on Christmas morning. Nick and Tom were at their mom’s until Christmas morning, and so everyone agreed to wait. Thanks everybody! Then after the presents were opened, Daphné and Alban took off to visit their papa in Paris. It all worked out! Compromise is such a wonderful thing.
Our next two Christmases were also spent in France, 1995 in Le Tahu again, and 1996 in La Bellanderie. The latter was a dream Christmas. The house was built for parties, and its dilapidated state mattered not a bit to either hosts or guests. We had a party for the children before Christmas, and then the present giving itself on Christmas Day felt like another. All of the children were with us for this Christmas, and thrilled to bits, as you can see in the photo at the top of this page.
Between 1997 and 1999 were more difficult Christmases in terms of our circumstances, but those circumstances mattered not a bit when the children got right down to it. The moving company to whom we had entrusted all our furniture in Paris decided to hang onto everything in an attempt to extort a lot more money from us. The attempt was doomed to failure because we simply didn’t have that kind of money to spare.
So our home in Santa Cruz was very skimpily furnished until the furniture arrived in 2000. I had worried that these missing parts of our lives would be felt more keenly at Christmas: I shouldn’t have! Each Christmas continued to go as well as the children could make it go: they had the basics down. They barely noticed the missing furniture in any event: who needs a bunch of furniture when you have presents and decorations?!
Family helped out again for Christmas 1997: this time Sue, my sister, her better half Derek and their children, Antony and Laura invited us all over to their place in Foster City for a second round of presents, not forgetting a little soccer in the local park. Everyone was thrilled again, and very grateful. Christmas brings out the best in people.
This was also the period when Nick and Tom were still living in Paris. They visited us for Christmas 1998, at the same time as Daphné and Alban visited their father in Paris. So the children were not all together – Charlie and Alex were with us when we went down to Disneyland for Christmas this year – but everyone seemed as happy as ever.
This was still the time when the children believed in Santa, giving Marie-Hélène and I the challenge of moving all the four children’s presents to Disneyland without their being noticed – Daphné and Alban would receive theirs on their return – which we accomplished with a little help from Edgar, the motorhome we drove in down to Orange County. The presents took quite a bit of space: we hid them under the parents’ bed in the rear, which obligingly tilted up to allow access to that storage, and in the hanging closet across from the bathroom (yep, of course a full bathroom!). It would have been impossible to hide them in a car trunk.
It’s always a pleasure to remember other qualities which made my shiny Edgar so valuable: he doubled for Santa’s sled one year!
When our furniture finally arrived in October 2000, Marie-Hélène and I were in heaven. The movers had broken some things and lost others, but we felt totally spoiled and as if we were layered in furs.
It was so rewarding to furnish the house and arrange all our things, which seemed so plentiful after their absence. It was like having everything new and reassuringly familiar at the same time. Christmas in that kind of environment was a dream.
When I first put this page together back in 2000 or 2001, soon after starting this online photograph album, I lumped together pictures of the presents from each year. Those pictures themselves became a family tradition.
Marie-Hélène (who did most of this work) and I would spend weeks choosing the presents and packing them, with a view to making the whole collection look as good as possible when the children snuck downstairs early in the morning on Christmas Day to see if Santa had paid them a visit.
We waited for them all to go to bed before bringing any of the presents out of their hiding places and putting the finishing touches to the next morning’s vision. Each year, that quiet Christmas Eve moment of running the presents around the house from where they had been hidden, wrapping a few stragglers and latecomers, and arranging them all around the tree was one of those lovely parental moments to be shared and stored away in our memories.
Every year, the presents looked better. Every year, the children were so happy and excited that they could burst. Even as the older children began to realize that Santa was the parents in disguise, they kept up the act for the little guys, we kept the presents coming, and all the children kept up that excited Christmas feeling, year in, year out.
That’s the real meaning of Christmas, happy children and contented parents. I wondered on that early version of this page if its real meaning might go astray at times, under the weight of the commercialization of the holiday and the money being spent, but then every year we found it again, and it never went anywhere. The real meaning of Christmas was vividly displayed each year on the beaming faces of our children.