Why French mayors give out food hampers at Christmas

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
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.

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.

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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

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  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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