Le pere Noël
We spent the Christmas holiday in the Alps with C's brothers & sisters and their families, and I actually ended up being a bit disappointed in how un-Christmas-like it was. They weren't into my holiday music or Christmas movies, there were few decorations besides the tree and we didn't have an all-out Christmas dinner like most French families do. My Christmas cookies were poo-poo'ed (though they did end up liking them in the end). The whole thing just seemed more like any-old weekend than the festive holiday get-together that I was hoping for. But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, my in-laws are all very non-traditional and not at all into commercial celebrations. I just thought that things would be a bit different now that there are young kids in the family...
This was our first Christmas celebrating with C's family though, and I love finding *the* perfect gift for people, so I put a lot of thought and effort into present shopping, especially for the kids. After opening the gifts, one of our nieces was playing with a gift we gave her, and I started telling her mother where I found it and why, and she interrupted me and said "You mean where SANTA found it". And I was like - "No, this was a present from us". And she said "No, you mean from Santa" a little more forcefully.
I was confused, so once the little one had left the room, I asked what that was all about, and she explained that the kids thought all of the presents had come from Santa. I couldn't really understand why Santa had to bring every single gift - but her rational was that the kids wouldn't believe in Santa anymore if some gifts came from other people. But it went as far that even gifts from the neighbors or from the grandparents a few days after Christmas were also from Santa, with the explanation that "Santa made a mistake and dropped them off at our house for you". I tried to explain that made the whole Santa theory even less credible, because come on - the guy's been delivering presents for millions of kids around the world for years, and he's still making delivery errors?? But she wasn't having it.
I guess my whole problem with this theory is - why it would be so bad for the kids to thank whoever gave them the gift? Growing up, in my family, we had a few presents from Santa and the rest from family members, and we had to go around and say thank you to each person and give them a hug. And that seems like it would be much more in line with the French obsession with politeness. Kids are taught to do the "bise" before they can even talk, and "hello, goodbye, please and thank you" are drilled into them once they do start talking, so what's wrong with showing gratitude for a gift?
We had a NYE party at our place last night, and one of my French friends confirmed it was the same in her family, and said again "But they wouldn't believe in Santa if we didn't do that". So I'm curious how things are done in other French families and if it is a French tradition I just haven't come across yet? I guess there are still things for me to learn about French culture even after 12 years here! I'd also be curious to hear how things are done in other countries that celebrate Christmas (or other bi-cultural families in France), so please leave a comment below.