There are giant WalMart-styled stores here called hypermarchés. They are in full bloom with Christmas decorations and merchandise – yes, just like in the U.S. Taking it all in at our local Géant, we were snuck up on by Pére Noël. He appeared from the crowd startling Bea with a candy and a Noël greeting in French. He was not the fat, sedentary Father Christmas we’re used to. Instead, Pére Noël is a sinewy man in a long, flowing red robe. He dons a big, spooky “answer me these questions three” type of hood, that hides his face. Should Pére Noël suddenly brandish a light saber, I would not be surprised.
There is, however, an even more frightening Santa phenomena going on in France. We’ve discovered the “military operations” Santa decoration. There are these small 3ft-high cloth Pére Noëls that people hang from windows, rooftops and balconies. Every other house in this area has at least one perched at some point of entry. Driving down a country road looking out at all the houses peppered with small, red men gives the impression not of a kindly Saint Nick stopping by to drop off some gifts, but of a full-scale Santa assault, a precisely-timed special operation by small, reasonably priced holiday novelty items.