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.

Comments

  1. Mon assez long post s’est envolé ! Un article très sympathique, merci.
    J’ai installé dans mon entrée une décoration symbolique, sur des branches, des crackers, des choses dorées pour mettre un peu de gaieté dans ce jour gris.
    A bientôt !

  2. I’m with the cashier. Christmas and its attendant marketing efforts come way to early. It shows up so soon, it actually diminishes my public Christmas spirit.

    Our tree will go up next weekend, but probably won’t be decorated until the following weekend. I used to put lights and decorations outside the day after Thanksgiving, but as the crowd moved earlier and bigger, I scaled back.

  3. Evelyne's Husband says:

    Evelyne, you forgot to mention that at some point, Santa requested to replace the milk with red wine…

  4. We went with opening gifts on Christmas Eve because Owen’s father came from a German family who opened presents at night. It also gave us a chance to sleep in the morning.

    I also think December 1st is a cutoff, though sometimes, because I need someone else to climb into the attic to get the tree, I have to live with whoever can get it down from the attic for me.

    Merry Christmas — in advance!!

    • What matters is sharing Christmas with loved ones. But you’ve got a point about sleeping late on Christmas morning, which is impossible when kids have been waiting for weeks for that moment.
      In any case, careful with the attic!
      And happy holiday season to you and Garry!

  5. Hi Evelyne, in Switzerland, the cup of milk is for the Santa’s donkey!

  6. Behind the Story says:

    We had very definite Christmas customs when I was growing up: On Christmas Eve we opened most of our gifts at our house with our parents and grandparents. On Christmas morning we looked in our stockings and opened a few special gifts from Santa. Now, with my daughters living in three states, with grandchildren, sons-in-law, nieces, nephews, mothers- and fathers-in-law, we have become flexible. This year, in fact, we’re going to the Bahamas, so everything will be new again.

  7. I’ve always put my tree up, real or fake, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. But I don’t have a lot of holiday things in my house. Stockings, a few decor items, a set of Noel hand towels. It’s not a big production for me.
    Now, my MIL, she puts her tree up and decorates the entire house before Thanksgiving. It’s a monumental undertaking!
    We allow the children to open one gift on Christmas Eve, although I get to choose which, as my mother did with me. It’s always a book or pajamas 😉

    • We share quite a few things in common, Joey. I don’t overdo in terms of decor either. And I always give new pajamas and books to my kids. One year I skipped the PJs because I thought they had enough. I won’t ever do it again:)
      They were infuriated!
      What? No pajamas? This not Christmas!
      I would not do it for the books, though!
      Enjoy the season!

  8. I laughed as I read your post Evelyne. It sounded a lot like the discussions that go on in our house. Peggy won’t listen to Christmas carols until December 1. We refuse to trot out on Thanksgiving or the weekend following to shop for Christmas. The tree will probably go up around the 15th. I haven’t decided whether to cut one down from our property or buy one. We have bunches but they tend to be on the scrawny side. We still do Advent calendars and Peggy makes sure that the kids get them as well. Now, on to the madness of the season. 🙂 –Curt

  9. The thing is that American Thxgiving is near end of November. Canada’s is lst weekend in October. So we can make the psychological break work and not have a tree yet.

    My partner’s mother (who died over 15 yrs. ago), loved Christmas. So my partner has incorporated some German traditions with a blend of new: ie. he grew up with freshly cut evergreen boughs decorating the house and house filled with the smell. So some years, we had fake..boughs.

    He likes a candle or 2 for Christmas meal. His mother was a quietly devout Catholic.
    For past few years we buy a Bouche de Noel from…an excellent German gourmet bakery in Vancouver. I think some years, the flavours were hazelnut ganache and other flavours. Or we choose an elegant gourmet cake..not exactly cheap.But memorable. His mother used to bake a multi-layered torte for Christmas. His daughter comes to help us eat the stuff. 🙂

    What is similar for he and I, we come from families where we had our Christmas meal on Christmas Eve.

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