Political correctness sometimes verges on the downright barmy. France is a secular society, which is fair enough. Public employees in France are not permitted to display ostentatious symbols of religious affiliation, such as foulards (headscarves) or large crucifixes. These issues came close to home this week.
Le Figaro newspaper reported today that SNCF (national rail company) employees at local town Villefranche-de-Rouergue decided to celebrate Christmas by setting up a crèche in the station foyer. They have done this for the past 10 years. This, of course, is an ‘ostentatious religious symbol’. Never mind the fact that, whatever your religious leanings, you can’t have failed to notice what time of year it is.
Someone complained. The regional management didn’t actually order the crèche to be removed but the employees responded by covering the offending installation with a tarpaulin and a notice saying why. So, something that might have given a lot of people pleasure has been denied to everyone because of someone’s bigoted self-righteousness.
The issue is clouded by the fact that, although SNCF is a privatised company, it has a ‘public service mission’. It’s clearer for state and public buildings, such as mairies and schools. The SNCF management has apparently opened a dialogue with employees about the subject of secularism because of the polemic this has raised.
I can’t believe how petty and small-minded the whole affair is. France might be becoming a multi-cultural society but celebrating Christmas is part of French history, culture and tradition. I don’t happen to be a believer myself but I’m not going to deny myself the pleasures of Christmas – including singing in carol services and enjoying my presents (assuming I get some).
The SNCF workers have my sympathy and solidarity. And, since I’m not a French public servant, I’m posting four photos of local crèches that I have enjoyed. I hope you do, too.
First, the crèche in the church at Parisot, traditional but carefully thought out.
Second, the crèche under the halle at Parisot from last year, complete with live donkey:
Next, the crèche last year at Cajarc, where le Choeur de Parisot sang Christmas carols. I thought this was rather clever.
Finally, the crèche the villagers of Loze install every year in a cave in the limestone hillside below the village. The figures are half life-size, if a bit moth eaten. But I think this is a lovely tradition.
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