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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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POLITICS

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Bikini, topless, swimsuit, wetsuit, burkini - what women wear to go swimming in France is apparently the business of the Interior Minister. Here's why.

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women's swimwear?

It’s a row that erupts regularly in France – the use of the ‘burkini’ swimsuit for women – but this year there is an added wrinkle thanks to the country’s new anti-separatism law.

What has happened?

Local authorities in Grenoble, eastern France, have updated the rules on swimwear in municipal pools.

French pools typically have strict rules on what you can wear, which are set by the local authority.

For women the rule is generally a one-piece swimsuit or bikini, but not a monokini – the term in France for wearing bikini bottoms only, or going topless. For men it’s Speedos and not baggy swim-shorts and many areas also stipulate a swimming cap for both sexes.

These rules typically apply only to local-authority run pools, if you’re in a privately-owned pool such as one attached to a hotel, spa or campsite then it’s up to the owners to decide the rules and if you’re lucky enough to have a private pool then obviously you can wear (or not wear) what you want.

READ ALSO Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Now authorities in Grenoble have decided to relax their rules and allow baggy swim shorts for men while women can go topless (monokini) or wear the full-cover swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. This is essentially a swimsuit that has arms and legs, similar in shape to a wetsuit but made of lighter fabric, while some types also have a head covering.

Is this a problem?

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear has caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move.

Those against it insist that it’s not about comfy swimwear, it’s about laïcité – that is, the French secularism rules that also outlaw the wearing of religious clothing such as the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippah in State spaces such as schools and government offices.

READ ALSO Laïcité: How does France’s secularism law work?

The burkini is predominantly worn by Muslim women, although some non-Muslim women also prefer it because it’s more modest and – for outdoor pools – provides better sun protection. 

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC.

Is this France’s first burkini row?

Definitely not, the modest swimsuit has been causing a stir for some years now.

In 2016 several towns in the south of France attempted to ban the burkini on their beaches. This went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional, and the State cannot dictate what people wear on the beach.

The situation in municipal pools is slightly different in that local authorities can make their own rules under local bylaws. Most pools don’t explicitly ban the burkini, but instead list what is acceptable – and that’s usually either a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. These decisions are taken on hygiene, not religious, grounds.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear, which seems to have passed unnoticed until the Grenoble row erupted.

Why is the Interior Minister getting involved?

What’s different about the latest row is the direct involvement of the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He appears to have no objection to topless swimming in Grenoble, but he is very upset about women covering up when going for a dip.

No, he’s not some kind of creepy beauty pageant judge from the 1970s – he’s upset about laïcité.

Darmanin called the decision “an unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”.

He has ordered the local Préfet to open a review of the decision, and later announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Alliance Citoyenne, a group that supports the wearing of burkinis in pools.

And the reason that he gets to intervene directly on the issue of local swimming pools rules is France’s ‘anti-separatism’ law that was passed in 2020.

This wide-ranging law covers all sorts of issues from radical preaching in mosques to home-schooling, but it also bans local councils from agreeing to ‘religious demands’ and among its provisions it allows the Interior Minister to intervene directly on certain issues.

So far this power has been used mostly to deal with extremism in mosques, several of which have been closed down for short periods while extremist preachers were removed.

Darmanin’s foray into women’s swimwear seems to represent an extension of the use of these powers. 

Is this all because there is an election coming up?

Parliamentary elections are coming up in June and the political temperature is rising. It’s certainly noticeable that in Darmanin’s initial tweet about the matter he referred to Grenoble mayor Eric Piolle as a “supporter of Mélenchon”, although Piolle is actually a member of the Green party.

Mélenchon and his alliance of leftist parties are currently the main rival for Macron’s LREM at the parliamentary elections. 

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