[guest post] the resident frenchman’s christmas post

Today’s guest post is courtesy to another friend I made through Snark Squad. Technically his name is Clément but since his Twitter handle had the Polge first when we first me, he will forever be Polge for me. We actually met in Paris, earlier this year and I learned the correct pronunciation of his last name. (I still use the wrong pronunciation in my head though, just so you know.) 

Christmas. For a word that has “Christ” in it, you’d think the religious association would be immediate, but I actually completely forgot about it until I received Willie’s e-mail mentioning this. I live in one of the few (the only ?) country in the world where secularism is actually guaranteed by the constitution, it even has its own name: “laicity”. We French are very big on the separation of church and… Well, everything else, basically. Religion tend to be seen as something personal, so if you ever walk the streets of some French city during December, you should expect to see Santa, probably some reindeers, but no religious decoration. This makes it very easy to forget how rooted in religion this day is. Or maybe I just have my “never see religion” goggles on, which is a very real possibility.

Even when I was a kid, I think that we had the nativity scene at home a few times, and I had absolutely no idea what it represented or what it meant, I just enjoyed the idea of this “hole”, this “lack”, in the middle of the scene, and being able to put that baby Jesus in his crib gave me some sense of completion. I actually did that about a hundred times before Christmas, and got scolded everytime, because it wasn’t time yet.

But when I was a kid, Christmas mostly meant one thing: gifts. When I was little, it always was a surprise. I mostly remember this one time, when I was shopping with my mom, and saw this clock. It was a stupid thing: it was just a yellow cube thingy with a dome on top, that could act as a nightlight, but I wanted it. She said no, and I begged, and she still said no. And obviously, a few weeks later, there it was, under the tree. I’m not even sure what became of it, it probably got lost in some moving, or maybe I got bored of it at some point, or just outgrew it, because I’m not even sure that could do anything more than give the time, and middle school me really, REALLY, needed an alarm clock to wake up in the morning.

But soon enough, we moved to the “tell your parents what gifts you want” format of things. The second important gift I received was actually a gaming console. I desperately wanted a Nintendo 64, but those things were expensive (although nowhere near where consoles are nowadays), so it was decided that my brother and I would pool our Christmas and share our console. Except… He wanted a Playstation. So I caved, and we got a Playstation instead of an N64, and to this day I still wonder what difference it would have made on my life as a gamer, had we gone the other way.

Now, the “gift” part of Christmas actually transitioned to either “here’s a check”, or going shopping and choosing something in a store. It’s still nice – I like free things – , but it’s definitely not the part I’m looking forward the most. For now, Christmas is about good food, and family. It’s about having my two brothers around the table, with my mom, a number of bottle of champagne who’s as close to “outrageous” as possible, some foie gras, and ending the evening drunk an sated.

And then, a few days later, I get to have the exact same thing, except with my dad. Because that’s what divorced parents are for – double-dipping Christmas.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d say it’s one of the few things that actually got smaller as I got older: growing up usually means opening ourselves to the size of the world, and grasping just how big everything is, but to me, Christmas is the one thing that got smaller, it’s not about the world celebrating something, it’s not about anything religious or spiritual either, it’s about being with your loved ones, and having a nice time eating and drinking. Which I think is something everyone can get behind.

So merry Christmas everyone !

Thanks a lot for this take on Christmas. It’s odd to me to not have some religious goggles attached to the holiday because while we have a separation between church and state, there are loopholes. 

What I can get behind though is how Christmas got smaller as I got older. The experience has changed, the gift part is not as important anymore. While it’s still fun to get presents, it’s actually more about being with people you like and love, and sometimes drinking alcohol. 

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  • wlreed

    It’s strange to me the separation because here it is so engrained that it’s about the birth of Christ, even though most of the traditions have their roots in Paganism.

    I absolutely agree it’s about being with the family, and the people you love. I actually still prefer to buy presents than give gift cards. For me, there is nothing like finding something perfect for someone and seeing their face light up when they open a present. I’ll give gift cards or money, but I prefer to find something that is meaningful or has some kind of inside joke. Or maybe I just love buying presents for people I care about.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      While Christmas is in itself a religious holiday (like most of our holidays in Germany) I hardly encounter the religiousness since I’m not religious myself. Two years ago I had to go to church with my family. Made my head nearly explode. I steer clear of it nowadays.

      While I love getting real presents, I hate getting asked what I want because I can usually never mention anything and it’s so annyoing to come up with something. With good friends though, I like to find a gift for them that’s actually nice and they would like. For some people, it’s easy to find the right present, others, not so much. Bestfriendboy’s Mom usually gives me a pack of cool socks in addition to something else just because it’s practical, and you can always need good socks. It does help that I love socks in general.

  • Technically… we have separation of church and state here too. But most people forget that – which is kinda annoying. This was a really interesting take on it though, since I do come from a very religious family and background, I don’t hear a secular take on it very often.

    And our Christmases have become smaller in our family too as the years have gone on. Which, I don’t mind much. My mom and I were lamenting just this morning that our gifts were going to be pretty “lame” this year. But ultimately, that’s not what matters. We get to be together and we love each other. That’s what really matters.

    • Wilhelmina Upton

      Technically we have separation as well but it isn’t as followed through. Not as bad as in the US though.

      I don’t think there will be a gift this year under my tree that I don’t know what it is because I have bought it myself and my Gran is giving me money. That’s how lame it has gotten.

      • Clément Polge

        We’re kind of extreme with it though. I remember watching Arte once, and seeing a documentary about German minister taking their position in the government and swearing on the bible/in front of god to do their duty, and I was really offended at that idea. We actaully had our previous president doing the sign of the cross after some religious office he attended, and that was a big deal at the time.

        Religion kinda became obvious with the recent debate about gay marriage, with some clearly religious fanatics politicians being against it for this very reason, but it didn’t really remain in the public debate because it doesn’t have any value. The government does not recognise any religion, so any religious text is legally worthless and completely irrelevant…

        Obviously the situation might be the same in some other countries, but here at least, it’s very easy to grow up without every meeting anything really religious :)

        • Wilhelmina Upton

          Nah, we aren’t that strict though every time any of our politicians uses a bible to swear on, I get uneasy. It doesn’t belong to separation of state and church! It doesn’t help that one of our biggest parties is the Christian Democrats.