It’s 11 pm. The kids are in bed, asleep. L’Homme is also in bed, asleep. The presents are under the tree. Tommy’s stocking is full. I have deemed Léonie too little to have a stocking this year. In any case she will be thrilled with the wrapping paper and tangerine peel from Tommy’s stocking presents. The cinnamon star biscuits are iced. There is no laundry to do. As I type this, my eyebrows are slowly dying – in the sense ‘turning colour’, not ‘coming to the end of their life’. In fact, I should take a pause to go and remove the dye before I end up with pitch black caterpillars above my eyes.
It is Christmas tomorrow. We are doing a mixture of English and French Christmases (Christmasses? Christmi?). This basically means that we get to have two festive meals; oysters and salmon this evening (Le Réveillon) and a roast with potatoes, brussels, carrots, Christmas pudding and crackers tomorrow lunchtime. I have stubbornly held out and insisted that present-wise, we do things the English way, ie. the presents under the tree are from us, our family, our friends, with name tags on to remind us who sent what, and the presents in the stocking are from Santa. Here in France there’s no such thing as a Christmas stocking; it’s the presents under the tree that are from Père Noel and appear magically overnight with no effort from Mummy, Daddy, Granny or Grandad or anyone. I was outraged when I was told this. “You mean the kids think Christmas is just easy-peasy, Santa magically bringing EVERYTHING, no thank you’s to family members and friends who have generously spent time and money choosing and buying and sending all these presents?” Oui, exactement. Here in France there is no such thing as a thank you card. There’s no need – it was all from rich old Papa Noel. So I persuaded L’Homme to do it my way (otherwise no sex until February) and explained to Tommy what was going on.
“Mais,” said L’Homme “All his friends think the presents under the tree are from Father Christmas. Tommy’s going to blow it for them.”
So, I took a stocking into Tommy’s school last week, for my last English lessons of the term, and I did an English Christmas session with them. I explained the various traditions in England – the carols we sing, the food we eat, the bad jokes and silly hats in crackers – and the stocking thing. The kids were all amazed. “Donc, les enfants anglais ont deux fois les cadeaux? Double cadeaux?” Erm … yes, I suppose they do sort of get more presents. This caused a stir in the class and one bright spark suggested they all put out big socks or pillowcases (I made the mistake of telling them that my brother and I used to put out pillowcases – AND THEY GOT FILLED TO THE BRIM). Panic. These kids are going to be disappointed. So I told them that Tommy is English and therefore it’s the English Father Christmas who comes to see him and that’s why the stocking thing works for him and not for them. Well, Tommy looked very smug and the other children stared at him with envy. “Breaktime!” I announced cheerily, and dashed out the door, only to get cornered in the courtyard and pummelled with questions about how to get British nationality.
It’s half past eleven. Time for bed. I cannot WAIT until tomorrow morning. Roll on Christmas! French, English, whatever!
Damn. I forgot my eyebrows.
PS: Added on the 3rd of January 2012 : having read this post, Sister Two phoned me up to tell me that it ISN’T an English/French thing and that lots of Brit families pretend the prezzies under the tree are from Santa. She reckons it was JUST our family. But in “Spot’s First Christmas” Spot and his Mummy openly wrap present up and place them under the tree, while it’s Santa who comes in the night and fills Spot’s stocking. So what’s going on? What DO English families do at Christmas? and more importantly, who is going to come and share my Christmas pudding with me? – the kids scrunched their noses up at it and L’Homme wouldn’t touch a raisin-packed-thing with a bargepole.