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CHRISTMAS

Why French mayors give out food hampers at Christmas

The famous French solidarity is particularly evident at Christmas time, when local authorities deliver gift hampers packed with delicious food and drink treats - here's who qualifies.

Some local authorities in France deliver thousands of gift packages to old people over Christmas.
Some local authorities in France deliver thousands of gift packages to old people over Christmas. Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Known variously as colis des ainéscolis des vieuxcolis de Noël or colis cadeaux, the Christmas hampers delivered by local authorities to older people in France spark joy every year. 

Typically, these parcels contain culinary delights like sausage, foie gras, chocolate and booze.

Although in Paris, where some 1,700 hampers will be delivered this year to people over the age of 65, recipients can choose to receive a “well-being” parcel with items like shampoo and body scrubs (the majority have opted for the gastronomic option). 

So who gets these treats?

Confusingly, each commune has its own rules on who is eligible to receive these hampers, although it is generally focused on older people.

Each local authority has different rules on age limits – although you need to be at least of official retirement age (62) to qualify –  earning limits and whether or not you need to register to receive a parcel. In some places, such as Calais, a relative, neighbour or carer of an older resident can register to receive a package on their behalf. 

Some authorities deliver thousands of hampers, others hundreds and some none at all, while in some areas the mairie instead puts on a free lunch for those who qualify.

In some small villages, these packages will be delivered by local mayors themselves.

Elsewhere, it is up to law enforcement officers, town councillors, other officials or charity workers to deliver the hampers. This gifting is not enshrined in law but many localities across France are proud of the tradition, which goes back as far as the 1940s. 

The hampers are often financed by local neighbourhood committees or residents’ associations. 

“Under the masks, we are smiling,” said Ludovic Rochette, the mayor of Brognon, near Dijon.  

The commune of Igoville in northern France described the distribution of hampers as a “beautiful occasion to meet with our elders, to exchange with them and to wish them a happy end to the year.”

The MP for Val-d’Oise, Cécile Rilhac, said the initiative marked a “good moment of solidarity”. 

The deadline to register in most communes has already passed. But you can always try searching “colis des ainés” + the name of your area to find out whether you are still eligible to receive a parcel. 

Member comments

  1. This year I received a Christmas hamper for the first time! My husband, who is a member of the Conseil Municipal (village council) together with the Maire and the other elected council members, delivered the packages to the “old” inhabitants. They were filled with locally made delicacies, helping the farmers and artisans who make pâté, fruit juice and jellies etc. Also they handed out gift vouchers for cultural activities to children.
    I had been asked if I wanted a parcel and had said that I didn’t need one. Much ha-hing and hum-ing was the answer and I was told that if more affluent people refused the parcel, it would become embarrassing because then the parcels would no longer be presents but would become charity.
    In a small village, one has to watch out being misunderstood, and I don’t always understand some of the ancient grievances in local village culture. Such as “we don’t talk to them; why? My grandfather didn’t talk to his grandfather either!”
    But it is a nice gesture, and it gave the older people a chance to talk to others. In these small villages there are a lot of older people living alone, who don’t get out much at all. Children have moved away to find jobs, and family members have died.

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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