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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. 

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 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.

  2. I only found out about the hampers on the day of distribution. I went down with proof of identity and address and was enrolled on the spot. Came home happy with my box of goodies thanks to the town of Montélimar (26). Apparently we get a free show too.

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For members

FOOD & DRINK

What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

If you're shopping in France it's highly likely that you will see food and drinks that proudly declare their AOP or AOC status - but are these products actually better than the rest?

What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean - and are these products better?

The French take their food very seriously – a country has to when its gastronomy and baguettes are both listed on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage lists.

Yes, France is a fast food fountain with an insatiable appetite for burgers and pizza – but it is also justifiably proud of its own traditional cuisine, from boeuf bourguignon to cassoulet – and has put a legal premium on restaurants serving ‘homemade’ food.

That pride extends to food production, with farmers and artisan manufacturers fearlessly defending their techniques – taking their disputes to court in many cases.

READ ALSO French court rules on the appearance of striped cheese

The French developed a labelling system that meant consumers could buy certain agricultural products – from vegetables to cheeses and wines – safe in the knowledge that its production and processing have been carried out in a particular geographical area (the terroir) and using recognised and traditional know-how.

This is the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

The designation can indicate a particular geographical area, or that the producer has followed the traditional technique or both.

Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body. The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

The origins of AOC labelling date to 1411, when the production of blue Roquefort cheese was regulated by parliamentary decree. 

On August 1st, 1905, AOC rules were introduced for wine – and, in 1919, the Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin was passed which specified the region, right down in some cases to the commune in which a given product had to be manufactured to bear its name. 

As well as wines and cheeses, AOC status has been awarded to Poulet de Bresse, and salt marsh lamb raised in the Baie de Somme; Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil; lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay; Corsican honey; butter from Charente, Charente-Maritime, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres and Vendée; and certain spirits.

And these classifications are taken seriously – during the summer of 2022 several cheese producers had to temporarily stop using their AOC/AOP labels because the classification specified that the cheese was made with milk from grass-fed cows and their cows were being fed on hay because of the drought.

The European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

This is the more common Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP).

The difference? Scale. The two labels are fundamentally the same. Just the former is French and older, while the latter European. 

Most products with AOC designation also have AOP protection under EU law, so they use AOP. However, certain wines with AOP status can still use the French AOC designation, and many use both.

So are AOP/AOC products better than non-AOP ones?

Neither of these labels are a quality mark, they refer only to how and where the product is made or grown, so there is nothing intrinsically better about an AOC/AOP cheese, lentil or wine.

However, the marks tend to go to the smaller, artisan producers who take great pride in their products, so in reality many of the AOC/AOP products are the better ones.

Producers of Camembert have fought a decade-long battle over labelling that pitted the AOP camembert producers (whose product must be made with unpasturised milk, at least 50 percent of which is produced by cows that have been grazing on Normandy grass) against the big factory producers who have no such constraints. 

While both are camembert, the AOP producers will tell you (at some length, if you let them) that theirs is an infinitely superior product. 

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