Ever noticed that all the major newspapers and magazines over Christmas are written months before? When I worked for the French press we were preparing our Christmas specials in the suffocating August heat – slaving away trying to find as much Christmas spirit as we could in the stifling mid-August dog days. Imaginary Festive frolics whilst the rest of the world is at the beach. I actually remember writing a series of Festive articles sweltering away in a trailer home, whilst my family were sunning themselves on the beach at St Tropez.
What follows is a “Christmas Miscellany” – blog articles, press articles and extracts from my book, written over the past ten years. Everything from Festive journeys to the true misery of a real French Christmas – and God knows if there is one nation on earth who can’t keep the real spirit of Christmas it is the French – despite all the glossy magazine articles you might have the misfortune to read. So, unless I have put you off, try and read on. And a final word. Despite being a totally miserable bastard myself, I do enjoy Christmas.
1 – FESTIVE JOURNEYS
Christmas used to be a true destination. A gaudy, magic, tinsel town. A place of glistening, snow-covered, candy dreams. It was last place on the long hard yellow brick road through the year. It was a safe and reassuring place. How many times did mum and dad say, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be right come Christmas.”? So, as a kid, I was always glad to get to Christmas, because mum and dad always made sure that everything was right. Of course, as a kid, the road to Christmas wasn’t too hard. You just had to sit in the back seat, stare out the car window at the landscape, and try not to get too bored or to annoy mum, who was navigating, and dad, who was driving.
Then one day you grow up, and it’s you in the driving seat. Christmas is no longer a destination, just a stop-over on life’s long road. Christmas becomes a night in a cheap hotel with broken air con and a lumpy bed. It’s a refuelling stop in motorway service station – filling up at the pump, a lukewarm ersatz coffee from a vending machine, a trip to the loo, and then a saunter round the shop for chewing gum, cigarettes, paper tissues and something to keep the kids happy.
Christmas is a name on a map, somewhere to break your journey. You’re sick of driving, but you’ve got to carry on until Christmas. Then you see the signs. Christmas is getting closer, but the last miles are the hardest. The road seems never ending. Finally though, you pull into that blob on the map you’ve been aiming for all year. No magic tinsel town, just a one horse town, that no sooner you’re in, than it’s gone. A drive-through festive blip.
Eventually, you give up caring what Christmas is like. As long as you can get a shower, a cold beer, some food and a decent night’s kip, you’re happy. Usually, Christmas is that cheap hotel, occasionally though, you might get lucky and have a five star festive stop-over. For sure, these are the Christmases you cherish.
2 – SEXY CHRISTMAS
First there’s the build up. The weeks of tempation, anticipation, seduction. Dressing the world in tinsel and lights, erecting the tree … and after the festive foreplay we get to Christmas Day, the bit we’ve all been waiting for. Rippers and strippers all. We unwrap our presents, zealously ripping the paper or carefully stripping it off in delicate anticipation of the final result . After all these long weeks of waiting you will know if the finality will be orgasmic or just an anti climax. Of course, you may have been prodding the presents before, peeling back the wrapping for a peak as the gaudy packages are nestling under the tree. This is all very premature
And there are those Christmases where we just go through the motions. Certainly pleasurable, but next year, you’d like just a little more zest and originality. No matter if you hit the highs or not, Christmas is Christmas, what did you expect. Weeks of build up and over in minutes.
I like to think of Good old Scrooge – leaping out of bed, cock-a- whoop with Christmas after a night with the Spirits. Even Christmas (we hope) can turn the meanest, and grumpiest of us all into « better » people – so like Scrooge we are « glowing with good intentions. » and we can learn to live in the past, the present and the future.
No matter how you feel about Christmas, have a good one.
3 – WAS IT EVER LIKE THAT?
The ex-pat Christmas – an amalgam of all those festive moments that you are never actually sure you had – a tapestry of times and traditions, festive food – Got to have a mince pie, must have a Christmas pudding ‘cos they’re traditional. Hang on a minute – we never had mince pies and Chrismas pud in our house – no one liked them. (or mum didn’t like them).
What was that Christmas past that I’m never sure ever was
Down the pub on Christmas Eve, getting into the Christmas spirit with complete strangers, rocking around to Slade « Merry Xmas. »
Strolling sozzled into Midnight Mass. Tanked up on enough goodwill and whisky to sticke a fiver in the collection plate – Hey it is Christmas.
Carol singing with friends – woolly hats, lanterns and mulled wine .
Late Christmas shopping – finding that last minute présent before the shops close on Christmas Eve.
Rowdy Christmas parties.
I think I’ve done them once, but they weren’t regular festive activities, as an ex-pat though, you tend to roll everything into one for a bright, shining festive memory of a typical British Christmas – a Bright shining but very comforting lie.
Over the years I think I’ve stopped pursuing the traditional British Christmas. Try explaing Christmas crackers to the French. Try and get them to eat Christmas pudding or Christmas cake … IMPOSSIBLE. There are no French Christmas carols as we know Carols in Britain – well the French never had Dickens and the Victorians seem to have given us most of our traditions and elevated the festival to cult status.
4 – WRAPPING UP
Monday morning (22/12)/2013) down my local watering hole – the Nemrod – bar, tabac, presse and betting shop – buy your cigs, have a few beers, buy a newspaper and even bet on the horses – what a civilised place.
« You broken up then ? » asks Didier, (le patron) as he plonks a cup of coffee and a packet of 20 Marlboro lights down on the counter.
« Broken up ???? » Queries I. « Well when I left the house half an hour ago I was still in a long term, stable and loving relationship with my better half, but, if you are referring to the festive blip – yes, I have broken up. »
And as I stand propping up the bar sipping my strong coffee, I feel relieved that we have made it to the end of another year and for the next few days all I have to do is sit and gorge myself on festive victuals as only the French know how.
Into town for Christmas shopping. I’ve left it late this year. Start with a saunter round the Christmas market. The usual ecclectic mix of unfestive crap that you would never dream of giving and certainly hate to receive. Who buys their nearest and dearest hand made scented soap for Christmas. First and foremost their is the pleasure of giving – I wouldn’t give this crap to anyone – a total waste of money, and, if a présent is an expression of love or friendship – well there are quite a few things on this market that would be a pretext for breaking up.
« Happy Christmas darling, this is for you. » and as the better half unwraps her pottery vase / scented soap / hand-painted teapot /Peruvian shawl … consternation, feigned pleasure and one more waste of money présent that would even shift on e-Bay.
And that’s another new phenomenon – seling your unwanted prsents on e-bay coming Boxing Day. Give someone a present they want or just give them money
So, what are the French giving each ther for Christmas ?
This year’s biggest sellers in France are smart phones and thse do-everything tactile tablet things – an i-pad for mum and dad and a VTech Storio tablet for the littl’uns. In all, the French are reckoned to spend 2 billion Euros on high tech gadgetry tgis Christmas
Best-selling kids toy is not the Teksta digital puppy , but the Furby. So ar 1.4 million of the big-eared, bug-eyed geeky digital gonks have been sold in France in the run up the Christmas. This ghastly gonk can sing, dance, laugh and (according to the ad I am reading) « relay its inner emotions via it s eyes » which are equipped with mini LCD screens. And I bet after al that, come Christmas day, the kids will cast the freaky Furby in a far corner of the room as thet play with the wrapping. Folliwing the démise of the Beybalde spinning top craze, it is the Furby that has saved the Hasbro toy company from oblivion.
Now, for the gentlemen reading this, you may be living with the real fear that you are getting a sweater for Christmas. I have noticed in France at least that those awful chunky knit reindeer sweaters are back in fashion – however the « in » garment for this Christmas is the cachmere sweater. Ladies, this is the absolute MUST for the man in your life. You can pick up a real cachmere pullover from 70 Euros upwards, though Japanese clothing retaiers Uniqulo sell a cachmere « mix » for around 30 Euros. Top notch French sweater maker Eric Bompard have so far sold 180,000 cachmere sweaters in the run-up to Christmas.
One présent that has fallen off everyone’s Christmas list this year is the « Box » – the Smartbiox or the Wonderbox – you must have seen them. For upwards of 100 Euros or so, you can buy the love of your life the expérience of a lifetime, be it hurtling round a race track in a Ferrari, eating in a top gourmet restaurant, or ballooning over the Château of the Loire. Sounds great, but for experience I know that a hot air balloon ride over the Chteaux of the Loire is going to set you back more than 100 Euros. Anyway, it seems that quite a few people were disappointed with the « expérience of a lifetime » – it would appear that hurtling round a race track in a Ferrari was no more than a ride in a simulator, and as for that gourmet restaurant – well for the 50 or so Euros the « box » cost, you only got a starter abd had to add on the rest.
Ah well, I hope you like what you get, or you get what you desreve or you even desserve what you get. Know that the average French expenditure on presents is just over 300 Euros per person. In this most gourmet of nation’s, food accounts for an average spend of 175 Euros per person – yeah, you’d think that the French would be spending more on food than gifts.
Oh well, enough on presents, I’d better go and wrap mine.