Le Dernier Mot: The Real Meaning of Noël

Le Dernier Mot: The Real Meaning of Noël

Our daughter got a head start on the holiday season by writing her liste de voeux during November. Since then, she’s taken every available opportunity to remind us just what it is that she would like for Noël. I’m beginning to think that reciting her Christmas list gives our girl as much joy as the gifts themselves!

“Jackie,” I tease, “What was it you said you wanted for Christmas? Redis-moi encore une fois.”

I love watching my daughter’s face light up as I give my full attention to the familiar rundown: “Je voudrais une…

Despite her seeming greed for the gift-giving season, there are really only four items on Jackie’s list and one of them costs nothing at all – she’s asking for our permission to ‘le droit de se maquiller’.

Because I doubt she’ll get everything on her list, I ask Santa’s darling to write down a few more suggestions for us clueless Père Noëls. Instead, she surprises me with: “Trop de cadeaux tuent les cadeaux!

Comment? Have I heard my daughter correctly? Did she really just say “Too many presents kill the presents”?

My mind calls forth a parade of images – scenes in which children are ripping open brightly-wrapped boxes only to quickly push them aside and reach for more gifts! One wonders, did they even see what was in the box? Perhaps they did, and that the joy and the fun are simply in opening the presents?

What a contrast to those French Christmases of times past! During World War 2, Jackie’s grandmother, Michèle-France, received only one gift on Christmas day: a single orange. Her father was a prisoner of war, and when he was freed, he gave his newborn girl a ‘victory name’.

Could it be that our daughter’s genes have memories and that this explains her innate wisdom? Trop de cadeaux tuent les cadeaux…

Moved by this most recent leap towards maturity, I want to buy my daughter everything on her list – et bien plus encore – but wouldn’t this be defeating the purpose?

Let’s see, what was the purpose? Perhaps I should add ‘memory recall’ to my own festive wish list… oh, yes, it’s les cadeaux de noël and the balance between under- and over-doing it. As we ponder this question during the holiday season, let’s not lose sight of the greater picture: love, empathy, peace and forgiveness – these are the greatest gifts of all and bring joy to everyone around us.

I’m off, now, to follow my daughter’s example – reciting a modest liste de voeux, one no larger than a wartime orange: l’amour, l’empathie, la paix et le pardon. I’m wrapping them up right now, in the biggest, brightest box, and sending these wishes to you – Joyeuses Fêtes!

French Vocabulary

Le cadeau = a present / gift

La liste de voeux = a wish list

Le Noël = Christmas

Redis-moi encore une fois = tell me once again

Je voudrais une… = I would like a…

Le droit = the right

Se maquiller = to put on make-up

Le Père Noël = Santa Claus

Comment? = what’s that? / what did you say?

Joyeuses Fêtes = Happy Holidays

Kristin Espinasse writes the French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on a wine and olive farm near Bandol. Read about Mas des Brun here.

From France Today magazine

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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