Saks Fifth Avenue windows, holidays lights everywhere, ugly Christmas sweaters warming even the worst of grinches. America is obsessed with the holidays.
Literally. Obsessed. Not metaphorically, literally. Everyone’s got that one Facebook friend who, the day after Christmas, posts “Only 364 more days until Christmas! Can’t wait!” You yourself probably have the soulful runs of Mariah Carey blasting from your laptop speakers 24/7, her song warring with the Hanukkah jams of the Maccabeats. Americans are probably getting excited just reading this paragraph. In a seemingly parallel universe, France shrugs at our holiday cheer.
Nothing perhaps separates the French from Americans as much as the American ability to rally for things other than sporting events and strikes. Here are 10 ways that America and France deviate in the love (or lack thereof) for the holidays.
While most people and companies in America are adapting to an inclusive holidays culture of “Happy Holidays” “Best Wishes” or “Be Merry” for all the Jews, muslims, atheists, agnostics, and more, in the spirit of Christmas, France holds strong to “Joyeux Noël.”
Every town in America has one radio station that transitions over to holiday music on November 1, and five radio stations that start 24/7 holiday music the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because they don’t have the musical stylings of Mariah Carey, but whatever the reason, the only places you’ll hear Christmas music is in department stores like Galeries Lafayette or small town squares. In the French Morning and Frenchly offices, someone put on Christmas music and the whole office groaned. Three songs later, we were back to “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye.
It’s fine for kids to sit on Père Noël’s lap, but he doesn’t need to be fed cookies and milk. If Père Noël gets anything, he gets a carrot for his reindeer. Meanwhile, Americans open the flus in their chimneys, and glasses of milk and cookies that all together proudly declare, “Come on in and stay a while! Help yourself to the kitchen!”
Ugly sweaters are a strong non. The USA has whole parties dedicated to how ugly, kitschy, and tacky we can make our holiday apparel. Pom-poms, glitter, sparkly buttons from the ’70s, bells, lights, the more 3D accoutrements your sweater has, the better. Classy as always, France prefers to stick with the modest and elegant cashmere sweater set, perhaps a nice dress, or black pants.
France enjoys a respectable game of Secret Santa. It’s quiet, planned, and the outcome is predictable. The U.S. prefers a fierce game of White Elephant / Yankee Swap / Dirty Santa. In this holiday game, Americans raucously celebrate the season of FUN TIMES WITH PRESENTS through gift stealing, trading, and bribery. No moment of the holiday season requires more enthusiasm than when you’re in a fierce game of White Elephant trying to convince Uncle Dan to steal Aunt Sara’s gift instead of yours.
In American offices, employees decorate trees, guess who their Secret Santa was, and don headbands with antlers. The French office of Frenchly and French Morning had a great holiday party that was really just a party held during the holidays. There was wine, cheese and dignified conversation. Notably absent were holiday decorations, holiday cocktails made from seasonal spices and glitter, and Santa hats.
Those American office holiday parties are also a cookie minefield. Sugary and iced in the shape of Santa’s head, snowflakes, and trees, that stuff is delicious. But France doesn’t see the holidays as an excuse to eat sweets, certainly not. Cookies are for tea, not grabbing out of a round tin on the way out the door.
Lights trimming the gutters, hoisted up the flag pole, and wrapped around trees 50 feet tall, alternating from blue white to red to green. Americans light up their houses like convenience store/gas stations—we get lit about lights. As always, France keeps it classy and mostly subdued: trees lining major boulevards, department store storefronts, and wires hung taught above streets provide the scaffolding for France’s holiday lights. Beyond that, lights (or preferably, elegant tinsel) are reserved for the Christmas tree.
Amidst great-aunt Tilly’s cooking up a fruitcake storm in the kitchen, your cousins’ fighting over toys, and Grandpa Joe’s racist holiday tirade, some Americans may forget that the holidays are religious celebrations. No doubt American holidays have become less religious thanks to their commercialization, which hasn’t quite happened in France in the same way. Besides that, most of France is still catholic, and therefore celebrates Christmas the O.G. way. After lunch, there is no family touch-football game; there is mass.
Nothing. No kits in the store complete with stale candy that upon consumption lands you at the dentist, no gingerbread house contests at that one fancy restaurant with the counter space to display the best McGingerMansions.The French do nothing with gingerbread. Except in Alsace (the region of France closest to Germany), no one in France is trying to waste time decorating sugar and molasses with more sugar of various colors and densities.