Us Seniors

Elder et Soeur Arn & Jody

Monday, December 24


The Christmas celebration in France seems to be very similar to that in America. They start the Christmas shopping push around December 1st. The stores have their decorations very similar to ours. They also have adopted the “no Christmas Christmas.” They don’t say Joyeux Noël (which is French for Merry Christmas), they say Joyeuse Fetes (Happy Holidays) or Bonne Annee (Happy New Year). We have made it a point to say Joyeux Noël to all we come in contact with. Most of them respond favorably.

The city of Bordeaux does nothing in the way of Christmas lights, etc. on their main streets. The little communities, however, decorate their streets as if in competition. Many of them are very elaborate. Some, like Cauderan, the little community we live in, try, but obviously do not have a lot of money to spend. They covered their street lights with colored cellophane. It was very pretty when they first did it, but then we had a couple of days with a lot of wind and now there are only about a fourth of the street lights still covered.

They have what they call “marché de noël” or Christmas markets set up at Christmas time. They are shed-like buildings that they set up in a park or large area. Each building sells some item – mostly hand-crafted items. There are food booths and lots of candy booths. It is most interesting. It is a lot like our swap meets only with a Christmas theme. We went to two different ones. One was very elaborate and one more simple. They even had a small ice skating rink set up where the kids could skate for free. We understand that they have huge Christmas markets in Paris and in Germany where people come from miles around to do their Christmas shopping. You are able to get very unique, one of a kind items at the markets that you could never find anywhere else or at any other time.

We had a Christmas party at the church last weekend. It was very different from the ward parties we have had in the past. There were no decorations and no Santa Claus. Everyone was dressed very casually (no Christmas outfits, no red and green clothing). The only exception was the MC who had on a tuxedo.
 It was sort of a concert, with the Primary doing a song and a folk dance, a string trio performing with two guitars and a cello (also piano), the ward choir singing a song, and a puppet show.
 It was all very nice, but also very unorganized. It seemed more like a family doing a talent show at home. The choir director came into the audience and asked people to come up to sing – no rehearsal. More time was spent getting everyone organized and things set up than actually performing.
 The puppet show had to be stopped half way through because the projector broke, so the man who was behind the show came out in the dark with a flashlight up to his face and acted out the rest of the show. It had something to do with the Bethlehem story, but with silly characters – even a donkey that clucked like a chicken. Despite the disorganization, it was most enjoyable and we had a great time. After the program, they had a long table set up in the back with food that the members had made. There were sweet things and hot and cold hors-d’oeuvres. This seems to be the way they do all their get togethers – a long table with food the members brought and then everyone stands around eating and visiting.

On December 20th we had a Zone Conference. Usually we have workshops during the morning, a lunch and then meet all together in the afternoon for instruction and inspiration. Lunch is usually just a sandwich, some fruit, a juice box and a wrapped treat. -- very easy for the Elders to put together and no one goes hungry. However, this time the Mission President’s wife and children (and a few members from Bordeaux) made a real Christmas feast for us.
 The cultural hall and tables were decorated beautifully.
 We all had presents beautifully wrapped at each of our plates with our names on them. There were 3 wrapped presents, two wash clothes (impossible to get in France) stuffed with candy, a homemade pecan roll, an ornament and a candy cane (all wrapped up together with a bow). We were told not to open the presents until Christmas, so we don’t know exactly what they are yet. We have our guesses, but we will see.
 The dinner was delicious. They served mashed potatoes with gravy with nice pieces of turkey in the gravy (it is impossible to get large turkeys here in France so this was a great substitute), fancy green beans, and fruit salad – also French bread.
 For dessert the sisters in the ward here made buche de noël – very rich chocolate cakes that are shaped like logs. We also had JoAnn's famous pecan pie (thanks to Laura and Susan for the corn syrup). They don’t have regular pie pans here so we used some flimsy disposable aluminum cake pans. Because they have such high sides, the pie crust had to come up straight instead of slanting like our pie plates. Our oven is small so we could only cook one at a time and the temperature is different, so we had to experiment as we went. We needed 8 pies and only had enough corn syrup for the 8, so we couldn’t have any do overs. The stove also seems to be uneven and slants toward the front, so the pie crusts all pushed over the end of the pans. They looked a little funny, but the missionaries didn’t seem to care. In fact, one of the sisters that came to help out had 4 pieces. She said she had never had anything so good and wanted the recipe. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the corn syrup here, so we had to tell her it would do no good.
Sister Merrell always does everything she can to make sure that the missionaries are happy and well cared for. She has such a special way of encouraging all the missionaries and making them want to be and do better.

President Merrell made sure that each missionary had a nice Christmas picture from the Zone Conference. He had cameras draped all over him until all the pictures were taken.

Arnold and JoAnn with picture in front of the Christmas tree the Merrells provided for ambiance at the luncheon and then as a visual aid during the rest of the Zone Conference. They have a tradition at their home to always decorate the Christmas tree with all white ornaments in remembrance of the "tree of life" in Lehi's dream. It sounded like a nice tradition that we may continue when we get back home.

One really nice thing about this Zone Conference is that we met the new senior couple.
 We had been the only ones (except for the office couple) until now. It was wonderful having someone more our age to talk with. They are Elder and Sister Metcalfe from Cokeville, Wyoming, and are a very nice couple. They are proselyting missionaries in a town about 3 hours from Bordeaux, so we probably will only see them every six weeks at zone conferences.

The rest of the Zone Conference was very spiritual. We talked a lot about the meaning of Christmas. They said that there are three levels of Christmas.
 The first is the “Santa Claus” level – where all the commercialism comes in. That is fine and can be a lot of fun but is not what Christmas should be all about. They mentioned that President Merrell had gone to Viet Nam for many years at Christmas time to do surgery on those there who were in need. (He is a first rate plastic surgeon.) They noticed that the last time they went (just before they left on their mission) that Christmas had come to Viet Nam. There were decorations in all the windows, etc. The commercialism of Christmas had come to a country that was not even Christian.

The second level was the “baby Jesus” level. This is where our attention is centered on the birth of Jesus. It is a miraculous story and is what we try to keep in the forefront of our Christmas celebrations.

The third level is the “adult Jesus” level. This is where we understand the divine mission of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice and price He paid so that we can all return to our Heavenly Father again – the atonement. Someone said if there had not been an Easter, there would not be a Christmas. When we realize the significance of Christ’s life and death, then we realize the significance of His birth.

They ended with a beautiful slide show depicting pictures of Christ’s birth while inspirational music played in the background. They also included pictures of the missionaries and members they have baptized – the goal this year was to have a white baptismal Christmas. The missionaries put forth extra effort these last few months and there has been a definite increase in the number of baptisms.

Bordeaux Opera House
That Sunday after church we went to the big "place" (plaza) in front of the "Grand Theatre" (the Bordeaux Opera House) with all the missionaries and some members and sang Christmas carols. It was cold and kinda foggy but no one seemed to mind. To start with there was just an old drunk who tried to chime in with the singing, but he finally gave up and left. It was fun to watch the people stop and listen. Some would step forward and try to read what was printed on our name tags. We can't say much about the musicality of our effort but our hearts were totally in it. It does, however, say something about our chutzpah - singing in front of the opera house!!

We were invited for Christmas Eve at the Defranchis (the family we lived with when we first got to France). It was so much fun to have Christmas Eve with a family with kids and everything. Sister Defranchi is American and her husband is French, so it was interesting to see how they mixed the two traditions. The only tradition JoAnn has heard about that she would not like is that everyone always serves fois gras (goose liver) at all holidays. They say it is delicious, but she doesn’t know if she wants to find out or not.
Sylvia, Lydia and Marina at the table ready to feast. The dish at the top was filled with large shrimp and sauce. Very, very good!

Sylvia, Lydia, Marina and Amalia around the Christmas tree.

We had a lovely dinner, enjoyed singing carols and just spending the evening together. When we first got there Lydia (who has been away at school at BYU) looked at our badges and exclaimed, "I have a gift for you." We thought, "How nice, and we just met." She brought us a wrapped present and explained that a couple in Utah met her roommate. When they said they had friends on a mission in Bordeaux, the girl said that her roommate was going to Bordeaux for Christmas. So they had her bring the present, figuring that someone might know us and she could give us the present. Then there we were right in her living room on Christmas Eve! The present was from Don and Jill Urish. What a coincidence??

We had planned to invite all the missionaries in Bordeaux over for Christmas dinner, but we found out that we needed to share them with the members and investigators. We were, however, allowed to have one set share dinner with us.
Elder Giles and Elder Gill were the Elders we were blessed with on Christmas. JoAnn made an American dinner for the Elders, but then Elder Giles from England was one of the Elders to come to dinner. We don't know if he appreciated most of the American feast, but he really loved the mashed potatoes. The Elders all talked about wanting egg nog for Christmas, but they don't sell it here in France, so JoAnn made it from scratch. It was so good that she will never buy that cartoned stuff again. Elder Gill talked about that egg nog everyday until he was transferred (or so the other Elders told us).

After dinner we went to a convalescent home to sing Christmas carols to the patients. They really seemed to enjoy it. When we sang in English, one of the ladies sang very loudly with us. It was a fun experience.
After that we drove the Elders to various members' homes so that they could call their families for Christmas. We had hoped to also get a chance to call home, but the Elders took too long and at one of the houses no one was home so they had to double up at another home. By the time we got them back to their apartments by curfew it was too late for us. Fortunately, though we can call home at any time, so we were glad that they got to make their calls. They are only allowed two calls home a year - one at Christmas and one at Mother's Day.
For JoAnn’s birthday, we bought a small artificial Christmas tree and some small ornaments. It is really cute and gives us the feeling of Christmas. We also bought a Christmas CD and have been playing it everyday since then. We thought we might get bored with it by playing it so soon, but we haven’t. It just seems to cheer up our little apartment.

Brother and Sister Crucy (the wonderful family we stayed with in Paris) sent us home with a big box of Christmas goodies, so we have been covered in that department too.
All in all it was a wonderful Christmas. We were kept busy enough that we didn't have time to feel extremely homesick. We certainly missed everyone but know that we will have many more Christmases to spend with them.


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