It’s that time of year again, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that. Isn’t it wonderful? Well…
No, not really.
I am not a big fan of the festive season, or at least not in England anyway. I blame it on the winter I spent working in House of Fraser, a store like so many others who believe it is imperative that all shoppers know by mid-October that all Mariah Carey wants for Christmas is you! It’s the OTT-ness of it all that I can’t take. The decorations going up in October, the Christmas songs on a loop for months on end, the “emotional” John Lewis video (it’s about a snowman buying gloves people!), the houses so brightly lit with festive decorations they can be seen from outer space, but worst of all, it’s people talking about it. I remember one winter working in an office, from October onwards all conversations were geared towards Christmas: what you would do on the day, who you would be with, how many presents have you bought? What presents do you want? When are you putting your tree up? It was constant and tedious. On top of this, in the last two week run up to the big day, it became apparently acceptable to blast out Christmas songs in the office all day every day. So, no, me and Christmas are not the best of pals. But then I moved to Paris…
It’s different. It’s already mid-December and I’ve barely heard any colleagues mention the dreaded C word, it’s just not really a part of the conversation. Everything’s just so much more understated. Yes, there are decorations, but they don’t go up until December, even the Champs Elysées lights don’t get switched on until late-November. Somehow, here, they manage to invoke a yuletide atmosphere without hitting you over the head with an inflatable Rudolph. I like it.
Thanks to the difference in how France celebrates Christmas, I have even developed my own festive traditions, henceforth known as my Favourite Festive Things:
1. The window displays at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps
They are usually absolutely mad and this year did not disappoint. Luis Vuitton was the designer for Galeries Lafayette’s masterpiece. Whilst I didn’t think much of the unimpressive neon strip lighting on the outside of the vast department store, the theme for the windows was wonderfully eccentric, seeming to be based on a theme of dancing animals. They called it “Bal du siècle” (“Ball of the century”) and to be fair, the night you see a break-dancing panda bear, probably would be!
Here we have the break dancing panda
Some flamingos in trilbys
And my absolute favourite… posh penguins!
The scenes are up to a good standard of Christmas crazy, though don’t hit quite as high a score as Karl Lagerfeld did last year for his “me me me” theme which involved one window display containing lots of miniature Karl Lagerfeld dolls taking over the city! He gets extra crazy-points for his pure undisguised egomania.
Printemps’ choice of Dior made for a less eccentric but more fantastical window display based on the theme “Inspirations parisiennes par Dior.” Scenes included a funfair, an ice rink and the rooftops of Paris – naturally a hit with souslestoits!
2. Warming up with a vin chaud at a Christmas market.
Paris has several. The Champs Elysées is one to do once, but not really worth a return trip. The one is St Germain is very pretty and I’ve heard the la defense one is the best one, but just can’t bring myself to go all the way to La Defense – I mean that’s outside Paris!
3. Hanukah or Hanouka!
First of all, there’s a giant hanukia (8 branch candlestick) erected in a different iconic area of Paris for each night (there are 8 nights). To light it, a Rabbi gets into a type of crane and is lifted veeeerry slowly up to the candle, all the while Chanukah songs are blaring out of an extremely poor quality sound system. It’s hilarious. Also, they give out free doughnuts!
3b. Hanukah vans.
Hanukah vans are your old cut and paste job, whereby you take a van, you take a hanukia and you stick them together and lo and behold…
… Hanukah van!
They usually come with a gentle reminder to light your candles in the form of a giant exclamatory banner reading, “ALLUMEZ VOS BOUGIES!!!” (“Light your candles!”) and trundle along to the melodic tune of “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel” ringing out from a crudely assembled megaphone-speaker ensemble stuck to the top of the van. Festively fantastic!
So, thanks to Paris, I’ve learned to love the festive season again and can cheerfully wish you all a heartfelt Happy Holidays! Just don’t let me hear that Mariah Carey number again!