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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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FOOD & DRINK

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

The war in Ukraine and, in the longer term, climate change have prompted concerns about supplies and cost of food - but would France be able to produce enough to feed its population if necessary?

ANALYSIS: Is France food self-sufficient?

As food prices rise in France and elsewhere, questions over the country’s food security and self-sufficiency have been asked.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn and oil – has affected global markets, with prices for such products increasing dramatically, while sanctions imposed on Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – following the invasion are also hitting prices. 

It has also prompted questions as to whether, if necessary, France could feed the 67 million people who call it home, while both the European Commission and the G7 set out plans to safeguard global food security. 

Unlike other countries, such as Switzerland, France does not have a formal policy of self sufficiency for food – though it does have a policy for energy security.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear power?

“There is no risk of shortage in France because our agriculture and our agri-food sectors are strong and sovereign,” former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said on March 16th, while acknowledging that the industry faced a number of challenges.

He pointed to the economic and social resilience plan published by ex-Prime Minister Jean Castex to protect the French economy from the the effects of the Ukraine war, and which included measures to, “secure our producers, our processors as well as our agricultural and food production from 2022.”

Food prices, as predicted, have risen, both for imports and for domestically produced goods as farmers are hit by rising costs for fuel. The agriculture industry has been among the sectors consulted and farmers have been singled out for support, in order that they will be able to minimise price rises to consumers.

In April 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that France imports about 20 percent of its food.

But France – a food exporter – could feed its entire population, according to a report by the think tank Utopies, published in April. There’s a reason the country has been referred to as the ‘bread basket of Europe’.

The study found that France currently meets 60 percent of its own food needs, but has the potential to become self-sufficient. The report said that the 26 percent of food products currently grown in France for export or incorporation into processed food could be used to cover 98 percent of France’s domestic needs, the report said.

Food processing in France, of which some 24 percent is currently exported, could cover 114 percent of the country’s needs in that sector, it added.

Of course food ‘needs’ don’t include luxury imported items like exotic fruits, chocolate and coffee, so diets would see a change in a completely self-sufficient France.

More recently, drought has also prompted short-term concerns, with French farmers worried about their harvests this year. 

France is the EU’s biggest wheat exporter, and one of the top five in the world. But hopes that French farmers would be able to offset at least some of the shortfall in the world’s supply of grain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been hit by the record low rainfall so far this year, which have prompted warnings of a large drop in yields.

ALSO READ ‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

The forecast is for a smaller than usual French wheat harvest this year. With wheat-producing states in the US such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering in drought conditions, a poor harvest in France this year could be particularly significant – and could lead to wheat prices rising even higher in the short term.

At the height of the pandemic, president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (FNSEA) Christiane Lambert told Les Echos that there were two key pillars to ensuring food security and independence in France – the ability to produce and the ability to store. 

“No one bought French flour anymore because foreign flour was cheaper,” Lambert said. “So we produced less. But with the coronavirus crisis, it was necessary to respond to demand and therefore relaunch the production lines by running them day and night to avoid shortages.”

French agriculture was able to meet the challenge then. “We have in France a complete ecosystem which allows us to control all the links in the food chain … It must be preserved if we want to be sovereign over our food,” Lambert added.

But there would need to be a change in philosophy about food, according to Les Republicains’ senator Laurent Duplomb.

In France, “entry-level” agricultural products are mainly imported, since authorities have insisted on reorienting domestic production towards quality over quantity.

“We must also stop focusing on high-end agriculture because food sovereignty means being able to produce for everyone,” Duplomb said back in 2020. 

“The risk in a few years is to have two French consumers. The first will have the means to buy top-of-the-range French products, the second will be condemned to consume only imported products since France will no longer produce them.”

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