At exactly the stroke of midnight, on the morning of December 1st, Christmas Season officially arrives in France. In every city and town, in every village and hamlet, as with one single switch, all of the Christmas lights come on. Oh, in the cities there are some of those commercial outliers who, like their counterparts in the US, begin their Christmas sale displays sometime around the summer solstice. But out of town, in the provinces, the good folk wait until December 1st.
Christmas in France. It is one of those bucket-list checkoffs that we had from our very first visit. In Paris and in other major cities the lights can be spectacular. And Christmas in Paris, just walking the streets and enjoying the chill and excitement in the air, there is a different buzz from Christmas back home.
In the provinces, in the small villages and hamlets, the lights take on a different tone. Rather than spectacular, they have a different feel. They feel more personal, I suppose. There are lighted displays and overhead street lights. And there are the houses; often the lights inside a home are placed in front of a window, inviting passers-by the catch a glimpse, and you find yourself actively looking towards the windows to see animated lights and fully decorated Christmas trees.
Even in a tiny hamlet like Thoree Les Pins or the outlying “suburb” of Les Cartes , which is only a cluster of homes near a crossroad and where there is not a single bit of commerce, there are street lights. And the thing is, they’re just so darned charming. No other way to describe it….they’re just charming. And in a very real way the Christmas lights speak to a very real quality of life in France. It speaks of a simpler time, a time less frenzied, less commercialized, like the nostalgic feeling you get from watching the Jean Shepherd movie, A Christmas Story. As Karen says, “It is as if time stopped here in the 1950s.”
There is one curious and slightly whacked footnote to the Christmas lights. Often enough that it makes you aware that it’s a thing, you will see a Santa Clause doll hanging out of a window by a rope. Just hanging there. Usually it starts out as some kind of simple display. But the wind eventually gets to it, and the Santa gets swung around on the rope, and inevitably it looks like the Santa has been hanged by the neck until dead. And so, amid all of the quaint and rustic Christmas displays there is often a Santa Lynching to be seen as well.