Every culture has its traditions, and in France, as in many Western cultures, the end of the year is traditionally associated with giving; certainly gifts for friends and family, but also tokens of appreciation to others outside that inner circle.
“Les étrennes” (the equivalent to the Christmas boxes, after which Boxing Day was originally named) have become an institution here and are an important moment for many of the lesser-paid workers. A typical example would be the “étrennes” that tenants give their “concierge” at this time of year (either at Christmas, or more often, for the New Year). These are a gift of money given in an envelope with a seasonal message to say thank you for ensuring the well-being of the inhabitants in a building. This may not seem much to those who are giving, but many “gardiens” and “concierges” rely on these tax-free contributions to help them through the festive season. These contributions replace what for other professions are considered the “treizième mois de salaire” – the thirteenth month’s salary – traditionally used to pay the income tax.
Other professionals who come knocking at the door at this time of year are postmen, firemen and bin men. As it is illegal for these professions to ask for a tip they come selling their traditional calendars. These often sport images of fluffy animals or chocolate-box landscapes, designed to be as inoffensive as possible, but totally lacking in taste and originality! You can give as much or as little as you want, but here the amount should be noted and a receipt given in exchange (even if you don’t take the calendar!)
This is also the time of year when many large companies in France organize an “Arbre de Noël” which employees are invited to attend with their children. This is a moment for the company to give back something to their employees in the form of gifts for their children and often a convivial “goûter”, sometimes with entertainment, for all the family. The “Arbre de Noël” is generally organized by the “Comité d’Entreprise” and contributes to a company’s image vis à vis its employees. Smaller organizations may organize office lunches, parties or apéritifs.
December is the month of the traditional French “Téléthon”, a 30-hour television marathon to collect funds for various charities. Many towns, schools and other organizations across the country support the “telethon” by organizing sponsored events. This year’s “téléthon” will take place on the 5th and 6th December – why not get involved? Remember “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give”!