Image – California Citrus Crate Label
I have always loved the English tradition of pulling Christmas crackers and then wearing the cheerful paper crowns found inside during Christmas dinner. During holiday visits with family and friends in Devon and Cornwall, I was first introduced to this custom many years ago. The Christmas cracker itself looks like an oversized Tootsie Roll wrapped in shiny metallic paper while inside it, there is a very tiny firework that goes off when the cracker is pulled apart.
Some years past, I was invited to the annual Christmas Eve party given by my neighbors for all the ex-patriates in the small village where I lived in the south of France. Along with a couple of my Dutch friends, we piled into a classic, dusty blue Citroën Deux Chevaux and made our way down the steep hill, past the historic olive mill, to the celebration. The pebble pathway leading up to the old rambling bastide (country house) was lined with lavender, cypresses, and many tiny sparkling lights. Although the rose bushes and elegant French irises were dormant, I remembered their beauty from earlier in the year.
“Come in, come in!” said Jane as she greeted us at the door.
“Welkom in mijn huis!” Jeroen joined in.
Inside, the house had been decorated traditionally with bunches of green holly, swags of pine boughs, red amaryllis, and ribbon. However, the center of attraction was an enormous Christmas tree, hung with old-fashioned glass ornaments.
“Grab a glass of champagne, and I’ll give you a tour of my workshop” he went on in his deeply accented Dutch.
The hostess had been a London fashion model, and looked quite glamorous in a long, flowing Moroccan caftan that set off her golden locks. In her mid-seventies, she still had it! Her husband was a very talented maker of musical instruments and supplied basses to a few select musicians like Sting.
Artist – Edwin Megargee
The couple were the loving owners of Daisy, a very silly, somewhat crazy, and utterly spoiled small dog! Her little terrier friends had also received their own special invitation to the celebration. Daisy, an apricot-colored Cairn terrier, was best friends with Bonnie, my little silver-brindle female Scottie dog, as well as with Chivas, a handsome black male Scottie belonging to the owners of the local Dutch Country Club.
During the party, the three dogs were given the run of the house. Astute and gregarious, this petite gang of terrorists took full advantage of the situation. Knowing that no one was keeping an eye on them, they chased each other, ran circles around the tree, jumped on the furniture, and generally behaved like very unruly puppies.
As we proceeded to toast the hosts with a glass of champagne, suddenly there was an unexpected loud bang. Then an elderly gentleman, being quite startled by the sound, saw his glass of champagne take an unexpected leap towards the ceiling.
“What!” he cried out as he plopped down quite unceremoniously on the seat nearest him.
As we all looked around for the source of the noise, peeking out from under the tree was one of the Scottie dogs and the little Cairn terrier holding opposite ends of a large Christmas cracker.
“Who? Us?” I’m sure they would have said if only they could have talked. Instead, they only looked at us for a few moments, and then proceeded to carry on with their high spirits, impish behavior, and shenanigans.
Artist – Chery Holmes
Only a couple of days later on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, I was invited to lunch by Veronique, an eighty-seven year old Belgian-English artist. She had a black Cairn terrier named Toto, who although terribly spoiled, was friends with my rough-and-tumble Bonnie. My Scottish terrier was also friends with Bramble, a West Highland terrier who was no less pampered and belonged to Emma, a tall English woman from Yorkshire who now lived in Grasse. Similar to the Christmas Eve party, all three dogs had also been invited along with their owners.
A bottle of 1993 vintage Veuve Clicquot was popped open, and we watched the dogs playing as we sipped our champagne. While they ran after each other and zoomed in and out the villa, we pulled our Christmas crackers and put on our crowns. As I related the story of the dogs at the Christmas party, Emma looked rather skeptical.
“Oh, they wouldn’t dare!” she stated quite emphatically.
Before I could respond, we all stared in frozen silence as the small white Westie, in what seemed like slow motion, tugged hard at the corner of the tablecloth on which the smoked salmon, crab and asparagus, and duck mousse canapés had been sitting. Though the loud crash initially startled the dogs, they immediately reverted to nature and scooped in for the kill, or rather to feast on the hors d’oeuvres meant for us.
“Rascal!” cried Emma.
“Villain!” shouted Veronique.
“Naughty!” I joined in.
“Huh?” Toto, Bonnie, and Bramble seemed to say with their mouths full of delicious delicacies.
“Arooo!” went the Scottie dog in triumph.
“Woof!” barked the Cairn terrier as he licked his chops.
The Westie only smirked and didn’t make a sound, content as he was with his mischief.
Luckily for us, there was a foie gras appetizer and a delicious salad of mesclun, consisting of mixed domestic and wild greens, to sustain us. We then had Earl Grey tea with the Bouche de Noel or Christmas log, the traditional Christmas dessert in France — a type of sponge cake filled with fresh raspberries and covered in meringue and lots of tiny Christmas toys. Unluckily for the dogs, there were no more treats or toys.
After these surprising celebrations with Scotties and their ancestral cousins, I decided to create a new tradition of my own, an annual Christmas Scottie tea party to celebrate the winter solstice and the Christmas holidays. However while dogs are always welcome, Christmas crackers are optional.
Photo – Catherine Christiansen for Nosy Rosy Cards