Thursday, December 4, 2008

Noel for all in Besançon

It seems as if Christmas is the official, state sanctioned holiday in this corner of France.

The difference in holiday preparation - especially in the schools between the US and France is remarkable.

These pictures are from the gym area and lobby of Callie and Griffin's school.

All three kids have advent calendars being opened up daily in their classrooms.

Songs about Pere Noel (Santa Claus) are being taught to all the children.
One in Griffin's class goes something like this (rough translation)
Knock, Knock, Knock
Who is there?
Santa Claus!
Come in quick,
It is cold
Great Party
and chocolate
(Personally, I love the chocolate ending. I mean, he might have been wavering over coming into the party - but when he hears there's chocolate? the debate is so over!)
NO, my kids don't go to Catholic school!

In the US, we have holiday stuff in the schools - but I always felt there was a deliberate effort to be somewhat sensitive to other holiday traditions (although, let's face it, Christmas always held the day). We sang Hanukkah songs even when I was young and last year, besides Hanukkah, Zander learned about Kwanzaa. I am not sure about the Jewish population here but there is a very large Muslim population in our neighborhood - the mosque is visible from the school and I really wonder how they feel about all this. Maybe this is what they expect?

During André's training, he was taught that France, like the US, has an official separation of church and state. Why then, he logically asked, is it OK that the schools openly celebrate Christmas? He was assured this was no contradiction at all. "Christmas is a 'secular' holiday" (so I guess they would never do this for, say, Easter). OK, to some extent, Christmas is definitely an over commercialized trap - but it is definitely Christian as well. My family and I mostly celebrate it not because of religious conviction, but because of our cultural heritage. We were both brought up by those who have such convictions (or whose parents had them) but I don't imagine a lot of Muslims, Hindus or Jews are out there celebrating Christmas.... however secular they claim it is.

Santa is also all over the place in shopping arenas - besides the open air markets in centre ville that we posted about earlier; I also saw this trio of Santas displayed around a local shopping area. Each had a handy guide about Christmas traditions posted nearby. (one mentioned that children from france to switzerland to belgium to the hinterlands of pennsylvania wait for kris kringle on christmas eve - go PA! I think it was probably the state chosen because of us being here - don't you? OK, it's probably the PA Dutch tradition that does it...)

I refer to the trio as; respectively: pope santa, opera santa and santa with a big bowl of booze.....

The kids want to visit Santa, of course, so I am trying to help them understand why he will probably only speak French before we go. Zander is convinced he will just switch over to English once they start talking to him, but I'm not so sure.... They also are sure they will get their gifts before anyone else around here since Santa knows they go to bed much earlier than real French kids.

Zander is also very interested in making some things to give to Santa as gifts. He thinks it is terribly unfair that all he gets is cookies and milk - doesn't he get tired of this after a while? And how will he ever be healthy and strong? So far he has drawn him 2 pictures. One is of Santa on a boat (for when he needs to visit those island dwelling nations, I guess) and the other is of our whole family - for Santa to hang in his house. Zander is also interested in sewing him something - but we haven't figured out what yet....

As you can tell all three kids, believe, absolutely, in Santa Claus. I encourage this as much as possible. My opinion is that there is a brief window in which we believe in these things - why kill the dream? As the youngest (by 4 years) of 4 girls, I don't ever remember believing that Santa was real - my sisters disabused me pretty quickly. My goal is to give Griffin a year in which the Santa magic is real for him - one that he is old enough to maybe even remember. Perhaps this year will be his last chance but maybe Zander and Callie will hold on for another. They are such imaginative creative beings - they see fairies everywhere and honestly believe in them as well. (Did you know there are a lot more fairies here in France? and yes, I encourage this belief as well - as a matter of fact I have two good, seemingly rational, mature adult friends that claim they talk to fairies regularly.) But, as usual, I digress - back to Santa. This year they are smart enough to ask questions like... How can Santa go all around the world in just one night? How can he carry all the toys etc...? I answer by affirming their logic. (You are right! There is just NO WAY that we could do that!) and then give them the simplest reason of all. Santa, of course, is magic. There is magic everywhere in this world - christmas time or not. They wholeheartedly believe in magic - and frankly, so do I.

May you find magic all around as well; this, and every other, season.

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