Christmas in Amboise

Posted on December 14, 2016 by

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Christmas in Amboise is, unfortunately, getting more like Christmas in the UK but there are a few merciful respites.

Decorated Christmas trees and Father Christmases do begin to pop up in December but on the whole, things are much more low key. There is no spending frenzy. The French do not go into debt. They have no interest in keeping up with the Jones’. They are cautious to the point of frugality. If you haven’t got the money for something, you don’t buy it. An added bonus is that not only does the system make it hard to borrow; it’s a criminal offence to write a cheque without sufficient funds in your account. You may be banned from writing a cheque for up to five years.

As France has been a secular country ever since the French Revolution, religion seems to have been taken out of the equation. There are no carol singers and shoppers in supermarkets are not subjected to sentimental muzac on a loop with Christmas Carols.

Being non-religious does not mean the French don’t go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. As in the UK this is the only time the churches are full. They have their Christmas meal and exchange presents when they go back to the house to tuck into oysters, foie gras and lobster. Although the wine flows freely, getting drunk is frowned on. You won’t see drunken yobs or half naked women doing knees ups in the street.

Christmas Crackers are unknown in France. They tend not to go along with forced jollity. As for Christmas cards, there are a few in the shops bought mainly by ex-pats to send back to the old country. The French prefer to send cards for New Year to celebrate the 6th January, Twelfth Night. The Epiphany, when The Three Kings visited Jesus in Bethlehem, is called La Fête des Rois. An almond cake, La Galette des Rois is decorated with a gold paper crown. Hidden inside is a toy crown. The person who finds it in their slice is King or Queen for the day.

The French don’t go in for mistletoe either which means trees positively groan with it.  ‘Are those birds’ nests?’ visitors ask. ‘No. That’s mistletoe’.

You know Christmas is approaching when your local fireman knocks the door holding a calendar and wearing an expectant smile. They never go away empty handed. The French are justifiably proud of their wonderful fire service. Les pompiers are far more than fire fighters, these are the people you call in medical emergencies and car accidents. Very few are salaried, most are volunteers who are paid by the hour. There is also a large enthusiastic volunteer cadet force.

One thing is definitely and delightfully weird at Christmas in Amboise. The elaborate, impressive, elegant, tasteful street decorations are not vandalised or stolen. Christmas trees and their astonishing glass baubles stay in place and intact until someone somewhere decides the Festive Season is over and it’s back to work time.

Joyeux Noël!