Santa Chords

Be still my beating heart...

Be still my beating heart…

In the voyage of discovery that has been my so-far seven years in France, I’ve encountered many a curious and endearing custom. At this time of year, that cultural apprenticeship turns festive, and I’ve learned an awful lot about how the French embrace the Christmas period, not least their baffling fondness for holding on to their Christmas trees for dear life until the summer months, refusing to let them go until every last needle has fallen.

Kim carols 4This year though, my education intensifies as I’ll be spending my very first Noël in my adopted homeland. Mostly, I’m not going to lie, I’m looking forward to the good food, Champagne and feasting, not to mention the best French lesson a person could have, spending Christmas Eve as I am (the Queen ‘turkey’ on France’s December calendar) around a table with 15 authentic locals. English will be as rare during that meal as a flaming Christmas pudding, bread sauce and paper hats.

But it dawned on me the other day, with every Christmas card I wrote, that the glaring lump of coal in my Gallic Christmas stocking, was the French Christmas soundtrack. Or more accurately, the lack of it. I may be denied seconds by my hosts when I proclaim that the music culture in France is one of the country’s weakest points (at least when compared to the motherland’s efforts), and it seems that even a dollop of festive cheer hasn’t been enough to get the nation’s songwriting heavyweights to lift up their pens. Back in the UK anyone who’s anyone has a Christmas song under their belt. Even East 17.

Kim carols 3There are some that exist of course, we’re not talking full-on Scrooge here. One of the most well-known and best loved is the tinkling classic Petit Papa Noël, though anything by Bing Crosby knocks that right out of the snow. Jingle Bells loses most of its Christmas charm when translated into its French version Vive le Vent, more a meteorological observation in lyrical form as it celebrates that, erm, delightfully biting winter wind. Even French legend Jonny Hallyday has had a couple of pops, but I’m not providing you with any links to save your ears.

Joyeux Noël from the Granny Flat!

Joyeux Noël from the Granny Flat!

The religious crowd get their fix with some classics carols, but these, and most of the holiday song efforts are mere translations of various international versions, with lyrics forced in like stuffing in a plump bird. For a gal who’s used to The Pogues, Nat King Cole, Chris Rea and Shakin’ Stevens keeping me nodding through Christmas dinner, I simply won’t be having a wonderful Christmastime in the music stakes this year. And don’t even get me started on the glaring Wham!-shaped hole, though in retrospect given the crazy-warm December weather this week, Club Tropicana may be more appropriate than Last Christmas.

I promise I will try to get in the spirit and not spend the 24th pining after Elton John et al (though I’m sure the oysters and foie gras will go some way towards helping), but I can’t promise I won’t try and teach my fellow French revellers how to sing Fairytale of New York when my head is merry with bubbles. By God, they’d better know how to play Charades…. 

Oh, Christmas tree. Oh…. Christmas tree???

When you live in a place for nearly seven years, you get to notice the odd local quirk or two. Spend an hour or so in the company of fellow ex-pats, and you’ll become exposed to even more. And it was just on an afternoon such as this in early 2015, that the legend of the Parisian Christmas tree was born. Pull up a pew, wrap yourself in a warm Christmas jumper, and I shall begin.

April...

April…

Like every major city, Paris goes nuts as early as possible for our piny, decorative friends, erecting huge specimens dancing with lights in spitting distance of every plug socket the city can proffer. From the behemoth at Hotel de Ville, the upside-down wonder inside Galleries Lafayette, to the tiny sparkler currently nestled in the Granny Flat, all shapes and sizes are seen throughout the streets ushering in the joy of the festive period.

But it’s easy to love something that’s bright and shiny, adorned in the jolly colours of the season, lighting our chilly paths home. But to love a thing when it’s way, waaaaayyyy past its best, when the chocolates have long been stripped from it and a greater percentage of pine needles cling to the carpet rather than the branches, now there’s a story of love enduring through the toughest of times. Jesus’ struggles don’t even come into it.

Kim Last Tree 1

May….

This seems to be the backdrop in which the love affair of the Parisian and their Christmas tree takes place. “Isn’t is weird??” I shared, puzzled, last January to ex-pat friends Iain and Laura, “how Parisians seem to have trouble letting go of their seasonal firs?”. The question begged to be asked as I had noted many a withered, abandoned tree being tossed out onto the street uncomfortably long after the Jan 6th deadline. And where I’m from, tradition quite strictly dictates that no pine tree will grace the indoors after this date on pain of a crappy year.

They concurred, and #LastTreeStanding was born, a competition to spot an abandoned tree on the streets of Paris at the latest possible date in the year, photographic evidence capturing the proof. January, February and March were almost too easy. Spring arrived. We slipped with ease into April, and the stakes got higher as we moved into May. There were always pickings to be found, and not just trees either, various other Christmas paraphernalia popped up for the rubbish men ALL THE TIME, including an advent calendar finally discarded in mid-May (it didn’t count, but kudos nonetheless for sheer self control).

June....

June….

June saw an amazing flood of sightings, and by the beginning of July, we’d gone international as entries from London arrived. In the midst of that furnace of French summer this year, we expected the competition to gracefully and appropriately die, though a couple of submissions outside the rules (artificial trees and repeat sightings were deemed not to count), told us not to foolishly assume it all was over.

AUGUST 24TH..... #LastTreeStanding....

AUGUST 24TH….. #LastTreeStanding….

So now, as we’ve stepped into December, we can call the competition off once and for all (for 2015 at least), and I’m happy to announce that my sighting of a sorry brown tree on a balcony in Vincennes on August 24th, takes the prize-winning mince pie. AUGUST 24TH! Is there anyone out there who can explain this curious Parisian phenomenon? And remember, these are only the trees we did see. Maybe October hid some samples from view. Mind. Blown.

So we’ll kick off proceedings again next year, and I hope you can all join us. But for now, practise loosening up the pipes for in month’s time after all the festive fun has died down, there’s only one song we need to sing… “Let it go, let it go!” Who said Frozen was only for kids???