le sapin


Sapin (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken in Serre Chevalier, near Briançon



noun, masculine

fir tree

When Max came into the kitchen announcing, "Papa a acheté un sapin," I folded the dishtowel, set it down and took a deep breath. I knew the Christmas tree would be trunk-size—all the better to fit into the back of an economy car—and not tall, like the spruce my mom used to whisk home (space limits were not an issue... Mom had the tree tied to the top of her '68 Camaro).

"Cela suffira," I reminded myself, hoping to have finally learned a lesson. The tree, whatever it is, will be just what we need, and failing that, it will at least be real! Only, when I saw what my husband, The Nonconsumer, brought home this time, every nerve in my body became a live wire.

There in the center of the salon stood the most abominable tree that I had ever laid eyes on. I knew better than to open my mouth lest the bassesse of language, French or English, should spew forth. Meanwhile my nerves began to short-circuit, and it was only a matter of time before the sparks reached my tongue, causing it to ignite.

"How much did you pay for it?" I questioned, teeth clamped.

"Twelve euros," Jean-Marc answered, jaws relaxed.

Twelve euros! That's 15 dollars... about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine—one that we might share in a single night. But a Christmas tree—that's something we could have spent a little more on, for we would enjoy it for an entire month! 

After a moment of silence so thick you could hang tinsel on it, Jean-Marc challenged me: "You can take it back if you don't like it." His remark was delivered with the coolness of a peppermint candy cane.

"It is not for me to take back. YOU take it back!"

My husband's next response was to slam the door. I watched the ripple effect as the tinsel fell to the floor. 

I looked down at the artificial arbre. A Christmas tree should be at least as tall as a child, I reasoned. Staring at the sapin de Noël, I noticed its mangled branches and its missing foliage. It was a fake fir, one so cheap that it came with its own styrofoam ornaments! And was that "presto tinsel" stuck to the branches? 

I thought about the nine-foot-tall Colorado spruce that was Mom's joy to decorate. The ornaments were not automatically glued to the branches. They were handmade! One year Mom covered the tree with white colombes and pheasant plumes. She took the ordinary blue boules and dressed them up with peacock feathers (using only the fancy tops, or  what she called the "eyes" of the feathers). Her zeal for holiday decorating didn't stop at the giant tree—she had those doves "flying" from the branches to the front door!

My eyes returned to the bedroom door, which had just been slammed shut. I looked back down at the Christmas tree. The longer I stared, the uglier it appeared.

"It is the ugliest tree that I have ever seen!" I declared, and pulled off what decorations Jean-Marc and Jackie had put up. I yanked apart the tree and shoved it into the stupid bag from which it came. Still smarting, I returned to the kitchen and slammed the dirty pots and pans around in the sink, the sink without a garbage disposal! Only in France!

"You're so complicated," my Frenchman used to say as I struggled to adapt to his country, to his ways, to his small-treed holidays. Over the years, I began to suspect that he had a point. Indignation turned to industry as, little by little, I began ousting the surplus and the superflu—learning the difference between want and besoin, all the while simplifying, simplifying!

The sum of all that effort now stood before me, concrete in form, via this, the simplest tree.

"But I want a COMPLICATED Christmas treeeeeee!" I cried out, shoving the sponge back into the pan as I scoured and glowered. "I want a showy, superfluous, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC spruce!"

Just then I heard the rustle of faux branches and a whisper....

"Il est beau!" Max was saying to his sister.

"Oui, regarde," she agreed, softly.

I listened to the clanking of aluminum bulbs.... Peeking around the corner, I witnessed the scene. Max had pulled the tree back out of the bag and reassembled it. The branches, still tordues, now had a colorful array of bulbs, some chipped, some dusty, some new—all carefully hung. There were so many decorations that the empty parts, where branches seemed to be missing, were now filled in.

Jean-Marc was on his knees searching for an electrical outlet. Finding one, he plugged in the tree lights, but when he turned to reach for the switch.... my hand was already on it. Our eyes locked.

My husband smiled as I flipped the switch. When the tree lights went on, the room came to a swift hush. In the silence she appeared: La Joie—an étincelle here, a sparkle there—happiness filling the room, its presence so real, so palpable, you could hang tinsel on it.


French Vocabulary

Papa a acheté un sapin = Papa's bought a Christmas tree
çela suffira = that'll suffice
le salon = living room
la bassesse = baseness
un arbre = tree
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
la colombe = dove
la plume = feather
la boule = ball
le superflu = superfluity
le besoin = need
il est beau = it is beautiful (tree)
oui, regarde = yes, look
tordu(e) = twisted, bent
la joie = joy
une étincelle = spark, sparkle


====Note: any text from here, on, will not be included in the book.=====

Your edits here, please!

Thank you for searching this story for any typos or blips or inconsistencies in formatting. I appreciate your efforts! Click here to submit corrections.


sentir le sapin = to have one foot in the grave
passer un sapin à quelqu'un = to dupe someone

le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
*sapin also = coffin
*sapin is a color (vert sapin)

Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. With a hunk of bread, one finds his paradise under a fir tree. 

Listen to French: hear Jean-Marc recite today's proverb:
Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. Download sapin4.wav
             *   *   *

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Jules Greer

Kristi Darling,

All I can say is you must let me come and set up your Christmas decorations one day. Save your money, I'll start looking for some white doves to fly off your tree.



Bill in St. Paul

As I said on Wednesday, I'm not a picky reader and love the story the way it is, so I'll come back later and see what others have to say. (Last day of work, today, then retirement!)


You write great, but only because you asked:

"I knew better than to open my mouth lest the dregs of language, French or English, sling forth."

Shouldn't sling forth be used in the past tense here? Not that I know what the past of sling should be...slang? slung?...

Chief Grape

Hey Bill, I hope you have some Champagne on the fridge and that you have decanted a bottle of Rouge-Bleu for tonight !
BTW, no edits for me today, I love this post just the way it is.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Reshma! And good question. Does anyone, reading, know if this should be past tense. I have a feeling it is fine as is -- but my reasoning is a little muddled at the moment :-)

Bill in St. Paul

Thanks, JM. I was just looking up which of our local wine stores carries Rouge-Bleu so I could get some for tonight.

Jeanne in Oregon

I love this story. I think I'll read it to the ladies of my Sunday School class as we near the holidays. Our class tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving and comes down the first day of the New Year, so artificiality is a must. But our ornaments are wonderful, provided by my dear ladies over the years and precious beyond imagination.

Only one comment on format -- there seems to be a space missing between your question regarding the cost of the tree and Jean-Marc's answer.

I agree with you about the use of the word "sling" -- seems fine as it is, although I don't know a writer's rule to justify its use.

Love you my dear,


Kristin Espinasse

Jeanne, thank you for catching that space -- this is most helpful! Ill check it out now and fix things!

Hello to the ladies at Sunday School. I am so happy you will read them this story! Love to you, too.

Kristin Espinasse

Oh no. Cant seem to find the missing space, Jeanne. Did you mean that I need a new paragraph?


Love your stories. Somebody else may have picked up on this -- no time to read comments -- but I believe the correct English word is indignation, not indignance.

Keep up the good work.

Kristin Espinasse

Jim, Thanks for catching that one! Youre the first! Off to fix things...

Carmen Clarke

Love it. Don't change a thing.


No comma is needed after "When Max came into the kitchen announcing". (I get caught up in the story and forget to proofread, lol.) I do see a tendency to use too many commas, but that is personal preference.

Dawn Bouchard

J'adore cette histoire!! Bien redige!! :) If I am *brave* (i.e. *humble*) enough, I will read it aloud to my family before *we* decorate our tree this year. The not-so-funny 'joke' has become in recent years, "Let's see how many tacky ornaments we can put front-and-center on the tree ... and take bets on how long it will take mom to 're-decorate' it!" Unfortunately, I probably deserve the harassment as I, like you, find myself 'treasuring' the notion of a 'complicated' tree rather than simply enjoying the shared moment.

2 'Quickie Edits':

a. End of 1st paragraph: (space limits were not an issue. Mom had the tree tied to the top of her Camaro).

Better ...? Even preserves the opportunity for ye old - :)
(Space limits were not an issue - Mom had the tree tied to the top of her Camaro.)

b. "Oui, regarde," not in vocab list.

Avec amicalement,


Allen Laskin

Not sure what you mean by "...with eye of the peacock feathers!"

Do you mean "...the eye of a peacock feather", or "the eyes of peacock feathers!"?

Jules Greer

A CLASSIC CHRISTMAS STORY!!! This should be read each year of the Christmas season. Who could make up a story as beautiful and full of real life as you have captured in this vignette.

I am on to you Kristi, after spending 11 hours yesterday working as 'THE DIRECTOR', it finally donned on me that you are truly your Mothers daughter. Yep, you dangled that big title in front of me and I bit...hook, line and sinker. I read every story you wrote in 2006 and made notes on all of them...only to find out you are still way out in front of me, teaching me more lessons along the way. I was shocked this morning when you blindsided me with the cat on the lease story! You are the greatest...keeping me on my toes.

As you already know my expertise does not lie in spelling, punctuation, and grammar - so I am off to concentrate on what DIRECTORS do so well. Off to have a fresh cafe in my favorite restaurant overlooking our Marina in Puerto Vallarta as I contemplate my schedule today.

Thank God you have all of these brilliant friends here in the comments box to guide you along your new path.

Bill - Happy Retirement! Are you old enough to do this already? Of course I am retired but I've got John out there each morning leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. He will be 70 this July.



Jules Greer

I actually cut of the tops of Peacock feathers and laid (glued) them around a blue ornament. I assumed that they looked like an eye, so I called them the 'eye of a Peacock feather' as I explained what I was doing to Heidi and Kristi when they were little girls.



Bill in St. Paul

Jules - yes, I am by two weeks!

Kaaren Kitchell

Hi Kristin,

Oh boy, when husband's and wife's taste choices are diametrically opposed--the drama! She seethes. He slams. Hilarious.

I think the solution to "lest the dregs of language, French or English, sling forth" is this: "be slung forth." "Slung" is the correct tense, but it needs the "be" before it.

When you and your husband each speak, I'd put a space between each. In my own writing I do exactly what you do, no paragraph indentations, and find that spaces between the acts and speech of various characters serve the same purpose as indentation, and give our eyes much appreciated breathing room.

I think it should be: "nine-foot-tall Colorado spruce."

And here are two felicitous metaphors: "After a moment of silence so thick you could hang tinsel on it, Jean-Marc challenged me: "You can take it back if you don't like it." His remark was delivered with the coolness of a peppermint candy cane."

I love your journal, and look forward to owning the book!



Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Marsha - the commas been removed.

Merci, Dawn - Ive added Jackies words to the vocab section. Re your first edit: I left the first letter after the parenthesis in small caps, for I have included the parenthesis before the end of the line. I went ahead and kept the period (though I am a sucker for those emdashes!)

Allen, I thought I mind run into trouble with Moms eye of the Peacock feather. Between the guesses you offered -- and Moms follow-up explanation--Ill see if I can clarify things. Or maybe I can leave it alone. Off to have a look, now

Renda M.

Great story - only thing I can see would be to omit one of the "be" in the second paragraph to read...."it will at least be real"...
Other than that, it is a cute story, and very well written. I love your writing style.

Kristin Espinasse

Kaaren, thank you for solving the past/present issue--that Reshna alerted us to. Wonderful solution with your be slung forth! On my way to incorporate these latest fixes. P.S. I usually keep dialogue together in one paragraph -- Ill have a look at putting in a space--or new paragraph, for the conversation in that paragraph.

Kristin Espinasse

Renda, wonderful catch! Ive removed the typo/extra be. Thanks!

Kristin Espinasse

Re eye of the Peacock feather... I hope the following rewrite clears things up (going into any more detail would have made for a wordy sentence, me thinks):

 She took the ordinary blue boules and dressed them up with peacock feathers (using only the fancy tops, or  what she called the eyes of the feathers).

Kip Ingham

Unlike spelling, punctuation is somewhat a matter of style and expression. You are a very good writer, and I don't think you should take other people's advice on how they would choose to punctuate.

I LOVED your Xmas tree story!

Dad in Palm Desert, CA


Just my reaction:

""Twelve euros," Jean-Marc answered, slack-jawed."
Did Jean-Marc spend too much or too little? I don't know what a euro is worth.
As a result, the emotion of the moment is lost.
I don't understand the tree was cheap until later in the story and by then I've gotten into how unhappy you are with the tree.


Your voice is so strong -- I agree with others that editing shouldn't interfere, but... here are a couple of small things:

Sling/slung: "be slung forth" is passive. "Sling" is the right tense but probably the wrong word. If I were writing it I'd say "spew forth." It's what words do when they emerge from one's mouth unchecked by thought.

It should be '68 Camaro (the apostrophe takes the place of what you've left out, in this case the "19" in 1968).

Kristin Espinasse

Della, I see what you mean. I think, however, Id better leave as is -- I dont want to tamper too much with things at this point. That said, I will think about adding a new paragraph, it could be:

Twelve euros! Thats about about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine-- one that would might share in one night. But a Christmas tree--thats something we could enjoy for an entire month.

Update: Jean-Marc agree that this would work. Ill update the post. Thank you! 

Note: I might need to add that 12 euros, at the time (2005) was around 15 dollars

Kristin Espinasse

Janet, bravo for the le mot juste. I think this is the term I had been searching for (sorry, Kaaren, for the switch!). Also, I appreciate your explanation for why the apostrophe is located before the 68 -- this ought to help me to remember... for the next time!

Jules Greer

I am learning so much about writing today from all of you precious readers of FWAD.

Kip-it's always such a delight to see your comments.



Bettye Dew

It's a lovely, well-written story, but since I was once a copyeditor,I can't resist chiming in, now that you have requested help, Kristin.
1. End of 1st paragraph, I'd punctuate this way: ...whisk home. (Space limits were not an issue; Mom had the tree tied to the top of her '68 Camaro.)
2. husband, The Nonconsumer, (rather than Unconsumer)
3. I stumbled over the "lest" sentence also. "Lest" is a word usually used after an espression denoting fear or anxiety. Dictionary examples: hesitant to speak out lest he be branded a troublemaker; worried lest he should be late; afraid lest he should fall. Thus it veers into a subjunctive sense: I knew better than to open my mouth lest the dregs of language, French or English, should spew forth. Can also say "I hesitated to" or "I feared opening my mouth" ...
4. Your dad is right: punctuation nowadays is often flexible. Clarity is important, however. So is consistency. Therefore, you should decide whether to encase phrases in double quotes (American style) or single quotes (British style). Either is fine as long as you are consistent. Double quotes predominate here, so you can change 'presto tinsel' to follow suit.
5. The "twelve euros" par.: Point is a little unclear. Good or bad? The money buys a bottle of wine that would last one night. It also buys a Xmas tree that would last 30 days. The latter sounds like a better buy, and yet you are still angry. Can it be clearer?


Charles Orr in Flat Rock, NC

This is a wonderful story! I have just a couple of comments:
1. I agree with Bettye Dew's points 1, 2 and 5.
2. I would use a semi-colon versus a comma in the following sentence since the two clauses are independent: Her zeal for holiday decorating didn't stop at the giant tree; she had those doves "flying"...
3. It's not clear why JM was "slack-jawed." That usually indicates shock or amazement; was he reacting to your tone of voice?



I loved your story --- it is perfect as it is. I would not change a thing.

When you write about France, your home, and your family, I can easily visualize everything! You are quite descriptive, and colorful. I enjoy all of your tales. I purchased your book, after finding this website. It was wonderful.

Please keep writing these fabulous stories. You are a great writer, have more confidence, and be well.

Olga Brown

Hi Kristin!
I just love this story. It's my favorite so far. I would not change anything. There is everything in it: the cultural difference, relationships in the family and personalities of each of you.And I was really impressed of the way your husband handled the situation. Bravo, Jean-Marc!
Kristin, do you plan to include some of your beautiful photographs in the book?
It would be a great addition, in my opinion.
Montgomery, Alabama.

Bruce T. Paddock

So many nice things going on in this vignette! The overall “lesson,” of course, the raison de lire, but also the little things.

“…I questioned, teeth clamped.”
“…Jean-Marc answered, slack-jawed.”

“After a moment of silence so thick you could hang tinsel on it…,” which is delightful in itself, but then is revisited and reversed with “La Joie … its presence so real, so palpable you could hang tinsel on it.”

Anyway, here goes.

You should probably have a comma before the quote in the first sentence: …into the kitchen announcing, "Papa a acheté un sapin,"….

Your parenthetical at the end of the first paragraph doesn’t start with a capital, and it’d be weird to stick two complete sentences parenthetically into a third — I’d suggest, “(space limits were not an issue; Mom had the tree tied to the top of her '68 Camaro). ” You may prefer an em dash to a semicolon.

In the first sentence of the next paragraph, you split an infinitive. There is nothing wrong with that. Many people mistakenly believe it is disallowed in English. Don’t let them talk you out of it. (Sorry. That’s a pet peeve of mine.)

You need a comma after “…just what we need,” because what follows “and” is a complete sentence. I’d suggest, “…just what we need, and failing that, it will…” to keep the number of commas from becoming overwhelming.

I’d delete the comma after “Only,” but that’s a style thing, purely your choice.

“in the center of the salon” should either have commas before and after, or no commas. I’d go with none, but again, it’s your choice.

Consider a comma after “Meanwhile.”

I’m starting to think I’m obsessed with commas.

You need a comma after “…short-circuit” because what follows “and” is a complete sentence.

The spacing between “…ignite” and “How much…” seems to be less than the spacing between the other paragraphs.

As I said above, I love the way “slack-jawed” plays off “teeth clamped.” But I’m not sure why J-M was slack-jawed. Was he amazed that you would ask what the tree cost?

The “and” before “about how much…” is unnecessary.

You need a paragraph double space between “YOU take it back!” and “My husband’s…”

“Presto tinsel” should be in double quotes, not singles.

“Her zeal for holiday decorating didn't stop at the giant tree” and “she had those doves ‘flying’ from the branches to the front door” are both complete sentences, so they should be punctuated as “…the giant tree. She had…” or “…the giant tree; she had…” Or you could say“…the giant tree, she also had…” Or you could just decide that style trumps grammar here.

I don’t think you need the quotes around “flying.”

I’m not sure why you end the sentence with an ellipsis. Maybe because your memories are fading away as you return to the present?

Should be either, “…bedroom door, which had…” or “…bedroom door that had….” The connotations are very slightly different, so pick the one that conveys what you want.

I think, “…the stupid bag from which it had come” would be correct, but this is very probably a style-trumps-grammar situation.

(Did you know garbage disposals are illegal in New York City?)

I’d suggest replacing the em dash after “superflu” with a comma, for two reasons. First, the three clauses (“ousting the surplus and the superflu,” “learning the difference between want and besoin,” “all the while simplifying, simplifying”) seem pretty equal to me; I don’t see why one would be set off differently. Second, “superflu” appears to be a colloquial truncation of a longer word, and with the em dash there, it looks as if you’re interrupting yourself before you finish the word.

The paragraphs that begin “The sum of all that…” and “’But I want…’” need a double space between them.

Ditto the next three graphs — “Just then…,” “Il est…,” and “Oui….”

Comma after the introductory clause “When the tree lights went on.”

Comma after “…so palpable.”

You tend to put a space after an ellipsis but not before:
“reach for the switch.... my hand was”
In most cases, I would suggest doing either spaces before and after or no spaces before or after. But that’s another style thing.

Betty Gleason with blue pencil in hand

Love it!

The parenthesized text at the end of the first paragraph is correct as currently shown only if you capitalize "Space" because you have a period making it a sentence which must begin with a capitalized word. Only if it is a phrase can it be uncapitalized. Soon as you add the period, it becomes a sentence. With a comma or a dash it would still be a phrase.

By "slack-jawed" did you mean astonished, questioning or appalled? Needs clarification; can mean all 3.

I'll look at the others tomorrow.

Judie Urbanek

In the line, "Çela suffira," there should not be a "cédille" on the "C"; only ça, the contraction of "cela," requires it.

Kristin Espinasse

Bruce--and everyone who has commented on this story--since I last visited it, THANK YOU!

It turns out that I did not know the exact definition of slack-jawed. In my mind, it conveyed the idea that, while I was tense (teeth clamped), Jean-Marc was relaxed (slack-jawed). My solution, now, would be to make up a word: relax-jawed. Would this work?

Bruce, thanks again for taking the time to write out these suggestions and edits. And I was so surprised to learn the New York law against garbage disposals!!

Back to work....


I am not an editor so shall simply comment on the flow of your stories...this is lovely in the differences of cultures and family life and love!
Jules...might sit in a directors chair and have a coffee with you...cappuccino?

Kristin Espinasse

Bruce, I see what you mean about the superflu—, looking like the word has been truncated. What I really mean, there, after that emdash, is cest-à-dire, that is to say. I think Ill leave as is, but here is what it could look like if I added the c-à-d:

Indignation turned to industry as, little by little, I began ousting the surplus and the superflu, that is to say, learning the difference between want and besoin, all the while simplifying, simplifying!

Note, if I did add the extra words, I would keep them in English (I wouldnt use cest-à-dire), for I dont want a newly introduced French term to follow a previous new term.

Kristin Espinasse

Judie, Thanks so much for catching that ç. (Wow! so glad you saw it!)

Kristin Espinasse

Olga, Our book director (thatd be my mom!) highly suggests photos. But, from experience, this might complicate things AND add an extra expense for readers (a book like that costs more to publish). I am looking into it, though... Id like to keep this book in the under $15 range... will talk more about that in a future post :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Bettye, I have reworded one of the paragraphs, for clarity. I hope this works better (see second example, I have put the changes within asterisks):

Twelve euros! Thats 15 dollars... and about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine—one that we might share in a single night. But a Christmas tree—thats something we could enjoy for an entire month! 

Twelve euros! Thats 15 dollars... about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine—one that we might share in a single night. But a Christmas tree—thats something *we could have spent a little more on, for we would enjoy it* for an entire month!

Erin from Canada

Hi Kristin,

This is a beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of the Charlie Brown Christmas special, where the spirit of Christmas shines through in a sad little tree. It doesn't need any changes at all- its perfect!

Betty Gleason with blue pencil in hand

Back to the jaws bit. Did you mean he was insouciant? ood use of an French word also the same in english.

Stacy ~ Applegate, Oregon

LOVE it! Sweet sentiment!


Love the story. See nothing to edit or change.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, chère Stacy! And Candace, too!

Betty, Yes, I do mean insouciant. 

David Jacobs

What a wonderful story! Sorry though, I have no edits. It's lovely as is. I'm new to your blog, just starting to learn French, and want to thank you for opening a window into the language and culture.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you very much,  David. So glad you have joined us here! Your non-edit is most helpful -- it means that I can get ready to add this finished chapter to the open manuscript! Yeah!

Tim Averill

I really enjoyed the story, but questioned dregs, not the verb that followed. Dregs are the last remaining things or the "dregs of society" and I think you are going for "lest vulgar utterances, French or..."

Synomyms of dregs include deposits, dirt, draff, lees, residue, settlings, slag, waste
Others like it, so myabe I am wrong.

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