French Friday: Christmas in the French Quarters

At my local grocery store, there is a young friendly cashier. He often strikes a conversation about the weather, food, sometimes about France or still the American holidays.

Three days before Thanksgiving, he admitted loving that day and the fall season in general.

“I feel bad,” he started. “Now Christmas decorations show up in the stores the day after Halloween.” He lowered his voice as if other people could listen and disagree with him. “Even here,” he went on. “We start selling the Advent calendars with the pumpkins and cranberries.” He half-shrugged. “I guess that for business purposes.”

“I’m totally with you,” I said. “Way too soon. November is not Christmas. This weird trend started a few years ago.”

“First, it was just a few people  who put their Christmas decorations for Thanksgiving,” he agreed. “Now it’s like so many.”

Way too soon,” I insisted. “Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you! Enjoy the fall season, also my favorite!”

****

When our children were small there was a technical reason why my husband and I deliberately pushed the Christmas decorations closer to the big day.

“Is it Christmas today?” can be as frustrating for the kids and annoying for the parents as “Are we there yet?”

Also, we never understood how people could manage to cook an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner and put a Christmas tree up the following day.

Our upbringing of course helped. French people in their right mind would never have displayed a Christmas tree in their home in November. At least, when we lived there. I’ve noticed that fall tends to blend into winter, too, in France, moreover since Halloween is not celebrated everywhere and there is no Thanksgiving.

Even though my husband and I agreed that most Americans embraced the Christmas spirit much earlier than the French, we realized that we had not celebrated Christmas exactly in the same way when we were children either. So we mixed and matched our personal traditions, borrowing from each other, adding some distinct American flavor, to create our own family celebration.

* We were in total agreement about putting our shoes under the tree, a French tradition that we had both followed.

* I suggested including the stockings when I finally understood their role. The stockings, totally unknown to us when we arrived in the U.S., is now one of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions.

It’s definitely mine and I basically took over, overfilling my family’s stockings with small inexpensive gifts that vary from favorite candies to socks, from lip balm to funny or pretty Post-It notes…

* I accepted to open the stockings on Christmas Eve, since as a child my husband opened his gifts that night.

* He accepted to bring the other gifts under the tree only when our kids would be deep asleep. As they grew, it became a challenge 🙂

* We decided to build the suspense with phone calls from Santa, with bells that my husband rang from the backyard on Christmas Eve, evocating the sleigh, with carrots, cookies and a glass of milk that the children would display on a table before going to bed and would find half eaten and half full on Christmas Day.

* As much as most parents would love to keep their kids small and innocent just a little longer, we definitely agreed to tell them the truth when they would suspect that we could be Santa and Mrs. Claus.

* Naturally, our own Christmas could only be half French half American.

When we lived in Massachusetts, I fell for the New England candle-lit windows

* And we had a rule: Christmas would not enter our home before December 1st.

That day, the children could open the first window of their Advent calendars and eat their first chocolate piece.

Then, we would either go cut our own tree or buy one on a lot, usually not until the 10th or so.

Turning the house to Christmas mode took days, with holiday music playing in the background and countless cups of hot cocoa or tea to sustain us 🙂

Slower than Americans, the French-born were still ready by Christmas Eve.

****

But everyone knows that immigrants end up mimicking the natives. So, year after year, Christmas crept a little closer to Thanksgiving, even in the French quarters.

Until 2017, when it appeared for the fist time ever over Thanksgiving weekend!

 

 

P. S. I don’t think I’ll share the news with my young cashier, though.

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