November 12, 2012

DIFFERENCES

6.  CHRISTMAS

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 !!

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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.

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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?

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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 !!

20 comments:

  1. I am absolutely in sync with you about Christmas and find it a relief to be living in a country which does not saturate its population with Christmas merchandise. But I am finding that Christmas is being discretely introduced at our local Intermarche slightly earlier than it used to be, but only on a couple of shelves which are used for selling things on offer for the rest of the year. Back in the UK I was becoming sickened by the commercialism of the 'festive season', and it is nice to know that someone else feels the same because often I was made to feel a misery by others, who were still enthused about the whole Christmas thing.

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    1. Vera, I'm sure there are people who think I'm a complete spoilsport by being so grumpy about the commercialism of Christmas. Equally there are quite a few that agree with me, usually the older ones like me who remember a more gentle Christmas of a few decades ago.

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  2. I enjoy MAKING my presents and cards well before December- but that's because I love crafting, and then I enjoy spending Advent thinking about the true Reason for the Season.
    Like you, I LOATHE the commercialism - and the increasing pressure on families to spend, spend, spend.
    I hope France doesn't get as commercial as the UK on this one.
    Let's focus on Love, Joy, Peace and Hope - priceless gifts, which will not tarnish like the cheap tinsel in the supermarket

    blessings xx

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    1. Angela, I enjoy making Christmas presents too, not just buying them and keeping the Chinese in business !!

      Mind you, I'm in danger of becoming the batty old aunt who gives home-made stuff as presents !!

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  3. Hmm, well the foie gras went on sale in the supermarkets here in the first week of November, and you don't get much more Christmassy food than that here. The piles of oyster boxes have not yet arrived though. Chocolates and other more frivolous treats are out on the seasonal special offers shelves -- my approach to them is to purchase in the first week after New Year -- that way candied chestnuts are actually affordable, and I always hope for some supermarket own brand chocolate truffles too. My mobile laitiere is not yet taking orders for Christmas geese. The street decos are not up yet.

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    1. Susan, that's still pretty low-key compared to here. A lot of Christmas stock has now been on sale for nearly a month already - there's just SO MUCH of it and the advertising dominates everything. It's so incredibly full-on and will get more so as Christmas gets nearer.

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  4. We got the Christmas "pub" brochures from the big supermarkets in our mailbox at the beginning of November. Full of toys, computer games, electronic gizmos... and the Lidl in Perrusson had Christmas lights and mini-Santa costumes last week. At least French stores don't have those awful tapes with the likes of Slade and ELO pumping out bonhomie all the time. I don't know how the staff put up with it! P.

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    1. Pauline, I do hope the French are not following us into the retail madness that Christmas here has been for so long now. My feeling is that it is still fairly sane in France.

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  5. I agree with you, Jean. Christmas has started appearing here (USA) in October and it's way too much too soon. The traditional carols are my favorite part of Christmas, but I don't even want to hear them till a week or so before.

    About France, I'm not sure there's any hope for keeping Christmas simple. Even Halloween seems to be seeping in to French culture somehow.

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    1. Carolyn, I wondered how it was in the USA.
      Here, stuff appears on the shelves earlier and earlier each year, it seems. Even the small shops do it, presumably afraid that if they don't the bigger ones will pinch their business.

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  6. Christmas in the UK seems to get earlier every year. We left at the end of October last year to move here permanently, and there was already decorations up in some shops - mad! It was really only the last three of weeks before Christmas here when the shops really had decorations up and there were fir trees tied to every possible post in the village. When we left S.Africa it was staring to get earlier and earlier there as well, it is just a money making racket now! Keep well Diane

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    1. Diane, it looks like Christmas is a becoming a racket everywhere. People are under so much pressure to join in the fun and spend, spend, spend.

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  7. I have no experience of France in the weeks before Christmas, Jean as we're never there then, but I'm with you in intensely disliking the over-commercialisation of Christmas in the UK. Luckily, because we live well away from large urban areas, it isn't too bad for us, but I resolutely look away from the Christmas shelves at least until December. That said, my mincemeat has been made for ages. :-)

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    1. Perpetua, I made my Christmas pudding and cake ages ago too, when I had the time and inclination. That's good management, not over-excitement !!

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  8. We have spent most of the last 20 years skiing at Christmas and it's been great to get away from the commercialism of a UK Christmas.

    It's exciting to be buying special things in France in the couple of days before Christmas, and the fantastic thing is that come Boxing Day, Christmas is well and truely over!

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  9. September?!?!?! I am in complete agreement.

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  10. I went into our local Intermarché last week and the xmas candy and toys were laid out in the first two aisles. At least it's November.

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  11. There is a campaign going on in the States called 'Thanksgiving Comes before Christmas'! It is an attempt to keep retailers and others from going on about the Christmas holiday until after the 4th Thursday in November -- like it used to be. I have friends who just came back from the US at the beginning of November and said that they had seen very little evidence of Christmas until they returned to the UK -- where it was in full swing! For me I begin on Advent Sunday by attending an Advent Carol Service -- helps to keep it in perspective...

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  12. Nothing Christmassie happening here yet in Australia but I expect that I may have missed it as I just don't like the big shopping centres but then I might just be one of those Bah, Humbug sort of guys.
    We have a big gathering here this Xmas with son's returning from OS.
    Leon and Sue.

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  13. I was hoping the Europeans were more sensible to put off christmas to a more proper time.
    I am dreading the day after thanksgiving, when all the cheesy christmas carol music will start at the office. bah humbug.

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