This Christmas finds France in its second wave of the COVID pandemic and its second lockdown. The empty streets, filled with lights and decorations, are as lovely as ever. However the space where the Christmas market is usually held, with its crowds of people, is starkly empty.
Trees here come in all shapes and sizes, and three or four varieties! The children make decorations at school. But no Christmas cards are exchanged.
Depending on your region of France, you might see a Nativity scene set up. In the town where we studied language, a Nativity scene was hard to find.
At church meetings Christmas carols are not widely sung. We may just sing a few on the Sunday before the 25th.
For the French, Christmas is about celebrating with their families and eating various traditional Christmas foods, including snails.
Many of the North African people here will give each of their children a gift. Most of our friends are North African, or from the Middle East, and often they’ve never been invited to a Christmas event, never really heard the Christmas story, nor participated in any way.
So we invite them over for a meal together before or even during Christmas. The food is a melange of Australian and French. In our home the atmosphere is convivial, perhaps with Christmas carols playing in the background. There is also opportunity to share from verses of the Bible and discuss the true meaning of Christmas.
Our guests understand the dynamic of religious celebrations and how commercialisation can cloud the essence of the event. We give them all a small gift and share the Christmas story between courses. On a number of occasions we’ve given Bibles in simple English, as some prefer to read in English rather than French. And once or twice we’ve been able to pray for individuals.
So many of us are foreigners, and as such it is a blessing to be able to share in a moment of celebration that means so much to us.
Oliver and Rebecca have been working in France for a number of years.