It’s time for a visit to my French archive once more – any excuse to get out of post-election UK. Come and enjoy a traditional British Christmas, as explained to the residents of the small town next to ours when we lived in France.
December 6th, 2011
A ‘So British’ Christmas in Lavelanet
A good old-fashioned English Christmas has come early to Lavelanet. To the library (oops, mediathèque) to be exact. The librarian there enjoys children’s literature, and is a bit of an Anglophile. So she’s mounting a small festival of English Children’s literature featuring everyone from John Burningham and Quentin Blake to – of course – Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter.
What a disappointment I am to her. I can’t produce a pretty tea set awash with rosebuds, and she can’t believe I really don’t like tea very much: and that when I do drink it, I decline to add milk.
She’s wheeled in Découverte des Terres Lointaines to help with all the activities for schools, retirement homes, and the general public. And DTL have wheeled me in as Consultant on All Matters English. Together we’ve chosen recipes and we’re baking biscuits and cakes and we’ve planned craft activities round, for instance, our ‘so British’ Christmas cards. But said cards must contain no bible-story references. No stables, cribs, angels or Three Wise Men. French schools are strictly laïque – secular – and our friends were astonished to learn that even the mantelpieces of committed atheists are likely to feature Christmas cards from friends, showing church stained glass windows or the Star of Bethlehem.
From tomorrow, I’ll be reading stories in English, helping pull crackers (an unknown treat), and unpacking – many times – a stocking which dear old Father Christmas has delivered to me early.
My other job is to correct the misapprehensions learnt from French websites and children’s books about England. Who knew that the English enjoy tucking in to a huge plate of oysters at the beginning of Christmas dinner? Or that all British schoolchildren have a free bottle of milk every morning? Margaret Thatcher abolished that back in the early 70’s. And Sylvia misunderstood me, and thought we served stewed cherries, not sherry sauce, with our Christmas pudding (cherries – sherry: easy to confuse when you speak no English). And so on.
But it’s been fun transforming the community room in the library into an impossibly cosy snug, full of Christmas cheer. Let’s see what ‘le tout public’ think, when we open the doors tomorrow.