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Christmas in Paris: Vin chaud by the Arc de Triomphe, euphoria, and a sense of belonging

For someone who detests the cold, it was strange for me to be traveling in winter. Constrained by semester dates, visas and funds, however, December exploring it would have to be. I convinced myself that a spectacular “White Christmas” would somehow compensate for the sub-zero temperature and the frozen-toes-despite-double-socks.

I expected soft snowflakes and starry skies, and perhaps fountains brimming with hot-chocolate. I wanted to see laughing families overcome with an infectious Christmas cheer that would make me smile like Diwali had never managed to. I was curious about this festival, and cynical at the same time. But I was also enveloped in the magic that is Paris, and willing to give this idea of Christmas a fair shot.

 Christmas in Paris: Vin chaud by the Arc de Triomphe, euphoria, and a sense of belonging

Christmas in Paris. Photos courtesy freeimages.com

It didn’t snow. The Christmas-market didn’t have fountains overflowing with hot chocolate. It did, however, bring to life everything else that I wanted it to be. Families laughed and couples kissed, and children zoomed around a hundred fairy-light lit stalls. It was cold, but there was vin chaud, and more vin chaud. Hot wine, and more hot wine. Steaming red wine in a bright red cup with reindeer all over it. I stood around a small round table with two people I love very much, and made my peace with Taylor Swift in the background. We held our cups for warmth, and every sip made my throat sting. Alcohol, but hot alcohol. We laughed at the absurdity of us being together on a different continent 5,000-odd miles from home, and stared at the strobe lights making a star overhead to mark the location of the brilliant Arc de Triomphe under it. My toes felt less cold.

And this is probably what Christmas is about — a concrete reason for happiness and love, because god knows people need it (and forget about it otherwise). One could choose to drink hot wine and laugh a lot and eat almond crepes potentially any day of the year. But Christmas offered us that legitimacy that makes it less awkward to do these things otherwise. For me, Christmas had no background, no stories that went back to a childhood by a fireplace on a cold morning or a sparkly tree with presents underneath; but I knew that other people walking about that market — the city, even — were thinking about their own versions of this day. I latched onto this all-pervasive laughter, and made my own Christmas story. It involved two other people, and a certain sad warmth I like to call love. I say sad only because our time together was limited, and every day felt like a very magical time-bomb.

Parisian cafes often place their chairs and tables facing the street where one can sit down and watch the city go by. They like that feeling of being still when everyone in front of them rushes about in their own stories. Christmas in that city gave me that stillness — that euphoria of being part of a culture I wouldn’t call mine, and the knowledge that I am but a guest in this communal joy and anticipation. With the past few months having been a mad rush from one country and syllabus and set of people to another, Christmas in Paris gave me a few days of certainty. More importantly, it gave me back — for however brief a period — some sense of family.

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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2016 09:16:55 IST

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