Sunday, 8 September 2013

Finding Jesus in the Mairie

I was so taken up with reflecting on the serious aspects of the civil baptism that Understanding Frenchman and I attended the other week that I forgot to mention the funny part. It's hard to live in France for any length of time without becoming aware that the separation of church and state is very important to the French. Hence a church wedding has no legal status, there's no RE in schools and you can't wear any sign or symbol of your religion if you work in the public sector. It's something I agree with in principle, but France being France, there are also endless anomalies. Pentecost, Ascension Day and the Feast of the Assumption are public holidays. Town halls put up Christmas decorations and there is state funding for Catholic schools.

And at the non-religious baptism in the mairie, I spotted another exception to the rule. Hanging on the wall was a painting of a woman spinning by her baby's cradle, and printed on the wood of the cradle was a small picture of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. One of the other guest's daughter was asking about the painting, and, having been lectured on laicite for the past twenty minutes by the government official, we had a bit of a chuckle over it.

Later, over lunch, I happened to mention that we had seen Jesus in the town hall.

"Tu as vu le petit Jesus dans la mairie?" said one of the other guests. "Does Understanding Frenchman know about that?"

To understand why this had the rest of the assembled company in fits of laughter, you have to know that a "Petit Jesus" is also a kind of sausage (which nobody seems to find offensive at all) and, well, I'll leave the rest up to your imaginations!


  1. This is so funny! Cultural joke... love them!

  2. It bothers me that the government gives funding to Catholic schools. My husband explained that by doing so, the government retains some level of control over these schools. I don't know, though, there's something about that that bugs me.

    I think a lot of French people don't even notice that there are actually many signs of Catholicism around the country. I think they just grew up with this and, in the name of tradition, it would never occur to them to do away with these signs to comply with the law.

    1. I know what you mean ... I think it's the contradiction that bothers me more than the funding itself!