These are pictures of what pass for Christmas decorations in our village. I don't think they'll win any prizes, but they are sincere. Its just that you have to know who did them.
They're done every year on his own initiative and, I expect, at his own expense by our village cleaner. This is the guy who sweeps the streets, cleans the public toilets, plants & weeds the public flower beds and so forth. Its not much of a job and I'm sure it doesn't pay much, but he's very happy to do it and to have a place in village life.
One sees him most days if you pass through the village; a cigarette in his mouth working away. He's fiercly proud and protective of the village. I remember when we first moved here & he was in charge of the village dump. You had to prove that you lived in the village to use the dump, normally by showing an electric bill. It took several times before he admitted that he knew us and let us in without showing our bill. Cranky is probably the best word to describe him.
Ok, so, so what? The point is that here in this small village they have found employment for this man. You see he's somewhat retarded. Not too the point of being institutionalized (although in some places he would be), but certainly enough to be normally unemployable. Not here though; here a place is made for him and the village looks after him. They do it gently, kindly and allow him his dignity.
So, nobody complains about his Christmas decorations. We praise him and them, we take a secret pride in them and when we see them we feel just a little bit better about ourselves for being part of a kind society.
I'm not sure if this system of kindness is true in the multitude of villages in France. I do know that in one of our neighboring villages the same sort of thing is true. There too the menial village jobs are done by those handicapped in some way. I suspect that at least to some degree it is a part of village life all over the country.
The French are, it seems to, me a kind people. Not in an ostentatious way, but in a collective unobtrusive manner. This weekend we have the Telethon to raise money for charity. This is a BIG deal and takes place all over France. Millions are raised. In our village it will be held in our Salle des Fetes and will be well attended.
Outside the shops the collections have started; a can of food, a packet of cookies, whatever. What's interesting is that the collectors are genuinely volunteers, young people & old, but obviously people giving of their time. You see no "commercial" collecting.
I remember that I found this approach a bit different when we first moved to France. After all the French do not make such a big deal out of the Holidays as do we Americans and the British for that matter; they're far more low key. My French friends gently pointed out that nobody anywhere in France would go hungry over this season. The general population would make sure that they didn't.
Yet another reason why we live here.