November 28, 2009

Les Etrennes

Etrennes are small gifts, usually in money, given to a variety of service workers in France. Every year around Christmastime, the post workers, the fire workers, the garbage collectors and the concierge, come around collecting their Christmas gift.

When I googled "étrennes combien" I got over 50,000 sites discussing how much to give to the various people.  Most of the people said they gave the most to the postman and the firemen. It's hard to give money to the garbage collectors, as you never even see them!
I suppose the most important contact the we have here in the country is with the postal workers. Our postlady brings our mail and packages around faithfully. If we aren't home to receive a package, she'll come back later to see if we're there. That way we don't have to go to the post office to pick it up.



"... to the postman. I gave to the postman!!!" "It's the postman who'll come put out your fire!!"



These étrennes are usually in exchange for a calendar for the coming year. The Post sells their employes these calendars and then the facteurs and factrices (postmen and women) go from house to house on their route proposing their calendars. The revenue from the étrennes can cumulate up to a whole month of salary.



I gave my factrice her étrenne this week. In return, she gave me the choice of calendars with cute little baby animals or landscape scenes. I picked this one.



This tradition started in ancient Roman times, when the ruling family would offer branches of the vervaine plant to the goddess Strenia. The tradition continued to giving these tokens of gratitude to all people influencial in one's entourage. This continued through until today, even though the Catholic Church did everything it could to stamp out this pagan practice.

Etrenne-giving became very lavish during the reign of Louis XIV. He would give his favorites castles, homes, farmland, and all type of expensive gifts.
He expected even more lavish gifts from his court.

Now all we have to worry about is how much to give to each person. Normally, gifts are from 5€ to 10€. But to a good concierge, the gift can go up to 200€, if you want good care for the coming year!!!

Who will you be giving étrennes to this year?

16 comments:

Frankofile said...

The firemen have already been; thanks for the reminder that I'll need some cash handy for the postman!

Nadege said...

I will give money to my postman, the LA Times delivery man, the security guards at the gate (I live behind gates), the garbage man. It is a nice gesture, even if we don't get calendars in return. But I know many people who never give anything.

Jo said...

Hi Dedene;) we only have garbage collectors and a garden services team whom I bless with a gift of money each year.

Rachel Cotterill said...

I seem to remember when I was very young that my parents would tip the postman and the milkman at Christmas. Maybe the binmen, too, I'm not sure.

I've never done it as an adult... but then I've also never seen most of these people to give them anything. I hope we're not secretly upsetting them.

I like the idea that you might tip the firemen as well as the people whose services you normally use. I hope you never need to use the fire brigade!

Megan said...

that's interesting, I didn't know that the postal workers bought the calendars that they then resell.
The only ones who come around with their hands obviously out here are the street sweepers.
Our mailman is okay, but he always seems to come by with packages when we obviously won't be home, like 10 am on a Tuesday. Then we get the slip a few days later, have to go to the post office on Saturday... what a pain.

Erin P said...

Interesting tradition--I don't really have any services here which I give a monetary gift for. I think my mother used to give something to the mailman when I was a child, and I recall a gift for our school bus driver, but that's it. I wonder how strong such a tradition was in the U.S.?

Owen said...

We already have our calendars for 2010 now from the fire company and the trash collectors... but we've never had the postal workers looking to sell us a calendar, funny, I didn't know they did. But then, that is why we blog, to expand our knowledge of the world around us...

Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving... and gave thanks for being able to give étrennes...

tishjett@yahoo.com said...

I didn't know that. I mean of course I know the custom, but never heard the word. As you know, we'll be giving plenty, but most out of genuine appreciation rather than merely obligation.

Hmmm, thank you for a new word.

Tishx

Jenners said...

We give to our post office people too ... but not our garbage man or fire men or others like that. I think that is nice to do ... but I can't imagine it going over in the U.S.

Dominica said...

and who knows what else de postman can do or is that the milk-guy ? :-)
Thanks for sharing Dedene !

ladybird said...

Dedene, When I was a little girl, giving 'étrennes' to the postman, etc. was not unusual and almost an obligation! Nowadays, with most households with both husband and wife working, most houses are deserted when the postman, etc. comes by. So it's yet another tradition going down the drain. Pity :(

French Fancy said...

Right - we gave a tenner to the firemen and will get the usual bottle of whisky (these French men sure do love that Scottish liquid) for our French teacher and the postman

poppy fields said...

Pompiers, gendarmes, facteur, éboueurs, téléthon, fondation pour l'arménie, croix rouge...I think that's all...

Mammatalk said...

What a lovely tradition.

Shanster said...

Yikes... and I have such a hard time figuring out how much to leave my stylist when I go for a hair coiffe! I guess I won't be moving to France any time soon! grin.

Barbara said...

Hi Dedene,

Everyone is different concerning who they give étrennes to & what sum.
I don't know my mail carrier because they change very often here where I live. We shall see if the facteur comes with the calendriers.
We do give to the éboueurs, because we see them 4 x a week and recognize them. As for pompiers it's "hit or miss"; they come or not.

Take care ;)