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Culture

A French Christmas or an English Christmas?

By Patricia Connell
25/11/2010

A French Christmas or an English Christmas?
 
 
This year, the weather conditions are ideal for Christmas. It is nice and crisp and even the bookies have reduced the odds for a white Christmas to 2/1. However, I, for one, have not even started buying any gifts yet. I will soon though because I will try ensure that my family enjoys the normal Christmas they always have been used to having every year ever since they were little children.
 
I remember how important Christmas was when I was a lsmallgirl. My mother never started thinking about Christmas until the 1st December. This was usually timed with the advent calendar. She would then get us to write our list for father Christmas and presents were never bought until one or two weeks before. Many were in fact bought at the last minute. Similarly, the tree never went up until Christmas Eve.  I had never realised how all these little things formed part of our family folklore and what it meant to me until my first Christmas in England in the early 80s.
 
For a start, I was surprised to see Christmas decorations for sale in the shops in the middle of September right after the children had all gone back to school. In the office where I worked, the Christmas card list was being prepared in August and that was also when the Christmas party was booked. But more importantly, this was when ladies started buying presents- that is, if they had not even started months earlier (in the previous January sales for instance).

The French have a very different attitude towards Christmas. First of all, Christmas is not as important to them as the New Year is. This is why in many instances, children get their presents on Christmas day and the adults get them on New Year’s Eve. For this reason sales in France do not start until after the New Year when all the presents have been bought and all the parties have taken place.

I was recently asked by a journalist to tell him how different a French Christmas would be to a traditional English Christmas and the things the French had in their house that differed from the Brits. I had to think long and hard because I could not think of anything that we had, I could only think of things that we didn't have. Less decorations, no Christmas cards or very few, no crackers...

I discovered very early on that not sending or giving a Christmas card to anybody you knew before Christmas was concidered incredibly rude and offending for the person who was not receiving it. Even in offices where I worked everyone used to give each other a card and of course, I started doing the same. Friends who were visiting brought  their cards with them. Everyone was at it. In France, people don’t start thinking about cards until after the New Year (unless of course they are very religious) when they send their best wishes to friends and relatives. People don't tend to send cards to people they see everyday.
 
Traditionally, English houses are decorated with all the Christmas cards that the owners have received. They take a very important place along Christmas decorations. The variety of cards on offer is much wider over here, with high street stores dedicating whole departments to them. This is also true of Christmas decorations.

Something else that the Brits have and the French don't have and which I love are Christmas carols. I absolutely love going to friends around Christmas and singing carols altogether around the piano whilst enjoying mulled wine and minced pies.
 
Christmas Eve is probably something that the French have which the Brits don't. In England, you might have a few friends for drinks before going to midnight mass but the traditional Christmas Eve dinner that we have in France simply doesn't exist as such. That was what created the main difference and gave the impression that Christmas was simply skipped altogether. Christmas without the Christmas Eve dinner is simply strange.
 
 
Now the dinner. Christmas crackers are an integral part of Christmas for the Brits. Christmas would just not be the same without them with the silly jokes and the silly hats they contain. Of course, the silly jokes have to be read aloud around the dinner table.
I must admit that although I do miss the Christmas Eve dinner that the French have, I do so much more enjoy the traditional English way of celebrating it. I like the build up to Christmas and the fact that it is so much more important over here. I like going to the Pantomimes (again something very British) and enjoying all the office parties and dinners. The exchange of cards and presents between colleagues, friends and relatives.
The beauty of it all is that when you know the two ways, you can pick and match what you like best. For me and my family, a typical Christmas has now become a mixture of the two. We not only have Christmas Dinner but also a Christmas Eve Dinner and let’s not forget, the crackers, the jokes and the leisury time in front of the TV.
 
Merry Christmas to All!

COMMENTS:

22/12/2012 - info said :

Merry Christmas to you also!! And may I say I love your Christmas card but not only that one, all the other ones I received this year that was your work!!

23/11/2011 - jess said :

this site is good

13/07/2011 - everthingnewmodern said :

My choice is both: a French and English Christmas. Whatever it is, I just want to see people celebrate it.

19/03/2011 - huart.debbie said :

I can't imagine a Christmas dinner without crackers. You can buy really nice Robin Reed crackers online at a reasonable price at christmaswithcrackers.com

17/12/2010 - ndifolco said :

After 16 years living in London I can safely say...there is NO way I would do Christmas in the UK...sorry but family, memories of Xmas past and of course my mum's fantastic food come first! Merry Christmast to you all.

01/12/2009 - pierrejaja said :

Buy your christmas crackers in France and on line.
www.crackersdenoel.fr
;)

08/10/2009 - mademoiselle.gaelle said :

"The French have a very different attitude towards Christmas. First of all, Christmas is not as important to them as the New Year is. This is why in many instances, children get their presents on Christmas day and the adults get them on New Year’s Eve."
I AM FRENCH AND I CAN SAY THAT CHRISTMAS IS A VERY IMPORTANT FAMILY CELEBRATION HERE IN FRANCE,AND IT'S MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN NEW YEARS EVE...AND IF PEOPLE BUY GIFTS FOR NEW YEARS EVE,IT'S ONLY FOR FUN. I THINK IT'S A VERY STRANGE IDEA THAT YOU ARE SHARING ABOUT FRENCH CHRISTMAS. NOTHING OFFENSIVE ABOUT THAT BUT VERY FUNNY :-)

04/12/2008 - s.pollock-hill said :

You must listen to the programme of 12 lessons and carols from Kings College Chapel on broadcast Radio 4 Christmas Eve about 3pm. That is the start of an English Christmas, wonderful music, an amazing medieval setting, an interesting and thought provoking and short sermon in one of the finest Universities in the world ( OK not so old as la Sorbonne, my Alma mater mais quand meme...!).

La Bonne Anne'e en France cette anne'e, quel regale!

30/11/2008 - lucy.collet said :

i always had presents on chrismas day, when i was a teenager and before i was able to party with my friends i had on a couple of occasions presents in the new years from friends of my parents but nothing major.
foodwise we are years ahead,hard to beat the French one, a part from that it is more a less the same, family indoors, relaxing, talking, drinks etc..
Have a good un!!

28/11/2008 - cartierbresson said :

Our Christmases used to be so much more like you remember ; starting with advent, Christmas much more focussed on the actual time itself. We, too, as a family, celebrated Christmas Eve with a big family meal (no oysters and goose, though!), before going to celebrate the arrival of Christmas with Midnight Mass. Boxing Day, too, was a big celebration - but outdoors - going to the hunt, or shooting, bracing walks. Now, sadly, as you say, "Christmas" starts way, way , too early - Harrods opened its Christmas shop in August....and it is all too,too, commercialised. We cannot turn the clock back - but we can with our family !

28/11/2008 - camillegouzard said :

"The French have a very different attitude towards Christmas. First of all, Christmas is not as important to them as the New Year is. This is why in many instances, children get their presents on Christmas day and the adults get them on New Year’s Eve."
I have never seen this anywhere in France! Christmas is more important than New Year's Eve in France as much as in England. Maybe the author believes so (due to his/her family traditions) but lots of French people would disagree with such a presentation of Christmas in France.

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