The French typically celebrate Christmas the night before, that is, on the 24th of December. This means there is traditionally a big, festive meal followed by the opening of presents. I've been in France for six Christmas' during my seven years here. Five were held at my Mother-in-Law's and one year my husband managed to convince the family to come to our apartment on Christmas day (due to extenuating circumstances for his work). It was extremely dur (hard) to get them there too! (And one year we were able to luxuriate in the full-American Christmas experience at my mother's.)
This wasn't technically a problem when my son was a newborn. For his first Christmas he was only 3-months old so he didn't know and he didn't care. Same thing for when he was two years old. Besides, we put him to bed at his normal time so he missed the whole thing anyway. When he was three years old we were in the USA and we were able to celebrate Christmas with my mother, step-father, sister and her family, all on Christmas morning, like most Americans.
This year it seems my French family is back to "Christmas as usual," which means the big dinner and presents on Christmas Eve. It bums me out that they couldn't hold off a few hours again this year. My son is just at that precious moment in his life where his world includes the magical, mystical Santa Claus (or as he says, Pere Noel). He is brimming with that joy, excitement, and love that only a little child can have in their early childhood that this lovable character can bring.
Last year he was just beginning to understand about this Pere Noel, and my husband and I were on pins and needles till the 11th hour (or, rather about 9:30 PM) if his family would open all their gifts at night and he/we'd be left celebrating our Christmas alone in the morning. Grandmere asked her granddaughters (all high-school aged) about opening presents, to which the eldest announced that she will open hers Christmas morning with Simon, logically. My husband and I sighed a huge sigh of relief quietly.
We really want that wonderful moment where everyone sees the excitement of all the pretty packages under the decorated tree. A moment to share with everyone where we can share the joy of GIVING and the joy in bringing DELIGHT to another.
So this year is causing me some angst. I wish my French family would consider the GIFT of WONDER that little children have about Christmas morning. But then, why am I trying to change an established French tradition and these people? I understand I'm asking seven adults to accommodate one little boy, but isn't the childhood innocence of one little boy worth it?
For me, Christmas is about giving, but not just about giving material gifts, but also about Jesus and all that he represents. Even if people could logically refute that he wasn't born on the 25th of December, the spirit of preserving this heritage is important to me. CHRISTmas is about Christ. And it is about Santa Claus for children. It's about Santa Claus and all he represents: joy, wonder, suspension of belief, and excitement. Both "characters" represent love and joy.
I can't change my French family's beliefs or traditions. I can't make them want to bring Jesus into this moment. I can't convince them of how much I'd prefer for everyone to share in that magical Christmas MORNING experience for one little boy and his parents. But I can do everything I can to create the perfect CHRISTmas morning and season for my son in other ways:
- We go to church weekly. He's in our church's nativity play. I can set up the crèche for him to see in our home. I can talk about what Christmas means to me. I can share in his stories and imagination about Pere Noel. I can hide our version of his "Elf on a Shelf" in amusing places and have him fait des betises. I can bake yummy scones for us to share on Christmas morning. And I can be a loving mother, supporting everything my son dreams about, wishes for and expresses in his glorious, innocent childhood.