When we left home for a fortnight’s holiday in early October, Christmas was beginning to get going in the UK. As we arrived in France on the 7th October there was absolutely no sign of it. Nothing at all. It was such a relief.
The first few Christmas cards had appeared in the English shops at the beginning of September and by the end of the month there were piles of the essentials that our citizens need to stock up on early, such as sweets and biscuits.
There was no sign at all of anything even vaguely Christmassy in the shops in France by the time we left on 23rd October. As soon as we had crossed the channel and set foot back in England, it was clear that Christmas was well under way.
Now, the second week in November, it is in full swing. You are greeted with Christmas carols as you enter the shops and shelves have been emptied of the usual stuff to make way for the Christmas stock. Even perishables are on sale, such as special patés, cheeses and so on. People are buying them, too, with six weeks to go yet.
Most of the pubs and restaurants have their Christmas trees up and Christmas menus out in order to boost the excitement and promote early bookings for the office and family parties.
People say “are you ready for Christmas” as they meet and “have a good Christmas” as they part. Yes, believe it or not, I have heard it said, with six weeks to go yet !!
I really hate all this – well most of it, anyway. Christmas in the UK has become a massive retail extravaganza and it is difficult to get away from it. Soon, it will be hard to find somewhere to have a quiet meal out where you will not be surrounded by cheap tinsel and party-goers determined to get drunk at the boss’s expense. Even my own employers are planning a “Christmas do” on 25th November this year – a month before Christmas, for goodness sake !! We have to book it now, before it’s too late and everywhere is booked up, apparently.
When I was a child Christmas didn’t start until well into December, starting with the school play – the year I played Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” was one I will always remember – and the school Christmas party. Christmas meant carol services at the Church, carol singing around the village, a nice Christmas dinner, playing games with aunts and uncles, and maybe a second helping of Christmas pudding. I loved baking mince pies and sausage rolls with my mum on Christmas Eve. There were presents, of course, but nothing like what kids expect to get these days.
Why does Christmas now have to start so soon in England? Why do we have to endure three solid months of marketing, as retailers fight to outdo each other in the battle to get us to spend our money?
In France, things seem to be much more like they were here when Christmas meant something other than just spend, spend, spend. The rhythm of winter events seems much less distorted - Halloween does not seem to have been taken over by the Trick or Treaters, Christmas starts much nearer to Christmas itself and even the butcher is open as usual for business on Christmas morning.
The year that we bought our house (2007) we were there for the first weekend of November and our French teacher back in England had asked us to do some shopping for her – Christmas cards, special foods and some sweets called papilliotes – little chocolates wrapped in bright papers that look like mini Christmas crackers, and a few other bits and pieces. We came back with hardly any of it. The first week of November was way to early to buy anything to do with Christmas in France. There was next to nothing in the supermarkets and the lady in the maison de la presse in Le Grand-Pressigny obviously thought we were completely mad when, as a last resort, we asked her if she had any Christmas cards. She told us she would have a look in her attic for last year’s stock and to come back tomorrow !!
I know plenty of people who love all the sparkle and the glitter of Christmas, but I just don’t - I can’t help it. Or at least, not so much of it, so early. I’m not overly religious and wouldn’t lecture anyone about the true meaning of Christmas but I can’t help thinking that whatever it used to mean has now been replaced by a purely commercial event. I do try hard to make it just a family thing but ……
….. if you see a mad woman trudging round the supermarket aisles wearing blinkers and ear defenders, tut-tutting at the magazines proclaiming they will tell you all you need to know about creating “your best Christmas ever”, it will probably be me !! By the time Christmas actually gets here I am usually rather tired of it, or at least of trying to stay away from it until December !!