It is the oddest of feelings going to work on Boxing Day, when one is not a member of the essential services. There's no hanging about over Christmas in France. It's wham bam, thank you ma'am on Christmas Eve, a lie-in and sloping about recovering from the night before on Christmas Day, then back to work on Dec 26th. Some people, apparently have a form of Christmas Day turkey lunch, but my ex-h's family never did, and they are not unusual.
Actually, I hated Christmas with them. In that house, it's a totally secular event without even a passing nod to the meaning of Christmas. Pre-kids, I had to endure the midnight feast with not even a trip to the Messe to wake my appetite. I'm happy to eat up to about 9pm, 10 at the latest. Beyond that, I'm simply not interested. My stomach has packed up for the night, drawn the blinds and locked the door. The gastric juices are bedded down and boy do they sleep soundly, so no chance of waking them with tantalising smells.
Presents were given (one each) just before dinner having been placed on the plate of the recipient. It was all so terribly refined. Unfortunately I don't do 'refined' at Christmas. I want to enter into the spirit of things, be enthusiastic, happy and, well, Christmassy. A fun article in The Telegraph last week asked 'Just how posh is your Christmas' and reminded us of LP Hartley's remarks on the 'shuddering vulgarity of Other People's Christmas traditions'.
Once the kids came along, Santa 'arrived' round about 8pm while the children's attention was being diverted in the kitchen. It was announced that he had left pressies round the tree whereupon the kids all made a mad dash to the living room. I always wondered if they were so naive that they could believe Santa would manage to get in to the living room unseen with up to 8 adults and 7 children milling about the house. Logic didn't seem to perturb them, however. They opened their presents 'from Santa' and that was it. No thanks to anyone because 'Santa' had brought them, hadn't he, and you can't thank Santa except in an existential way.
This infuriated me to the point I bought more than one present, had one (a small one) from Santa, and the other(s) from my ex-h and I. That way, they learned to thank us properly and realise that presents came from someone who had put in time, effort and money to finding lovely, appropriate gifts. If my memory serves me right, the rest of the family decided the Santa thing had limited value, and to be thanked was gratifying, so they did likewise. Now that my 'evil' influence has been removed from that sanctity of Frenchness, who knows what they get up to.
This year, I had a classy, civilised and fun Réveillon, and a traditional English Christmas yesterday. We had breakfast listening to Andrew Marr plus guests discussing 'Happiness' on Radio 4, rang the boys to wish them and the French side a Joyeux Noël, watched the Christmas service on satellite tele, had turkey and all the trimmings for lunch, watched the Queen's speech and opened the pressies round the tree. NG joined us from lunchtime and, as we all had people we were missing terribly, we raised a very emotional glass of champagne to absent loved ones.
My mother, from 1200km away took it upon herself to inject a 'traditional' family row into the proceedings, mostly over my refusal to bring over ice-cream logs from Intermarche on the plane at the weekend... I took the meta-message to be 'I miss you and wish you were here'... although I could be wrong, of course.
Ulysse raided the turkey during the night and scuttled off guiltily with his prize, part of a wing. It was minus 4°C this morning as I drove along deserted roads to work. If it wasn't such an Anglo-Saxon day, I do think the French would prefer to have Boxing Day off as a jour ferié too. Or, come to think of it, going back work might considered a social service as respite from family overkill.
Not to be sniffed at!