Christmas in France is a festive and enchanting holiday celebrated with a unique blend of tradition, culture, and gastronomy. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in France:
The Advent season is the period of preparation leading up to Christmas. French families often have Advent calendars with small doors to open each day, and some light Advent candles to mark the weeks before Christmas.
Nativity scenes, known as "crèches," are a common Christmas decoration in French homes. They are often elaborate, detailed displays, and many towns and villages also set up life-sized nativity scenes in public places.
Christmas markets, known as "marchés de Noël," are a beloved tradition in France. These markets are set up in towns and cities, featuring festive stalls selling gifts, decorations, food, and beverages. They often run from late November through December.
French homes are beautifully decorated with Christmas lights, ornaments, and Christmas trees, which are typically decorated with tinsel, baubles, and lights. It is common for people to exchange Christmas cards.
Christmas Eve, known as "Réveillon," is one of the most important parts of the French Christmas celebration. Families and friends gather for a lavish meal, which often includes dishes such as oysters, foie gras, roasted meats, and a variety of desserts. The meal can last for hours and is accompanied by fine wines and champagne.
After the Réveillon meal, many French people attend a midnight Mass (la Messe de Minuit) at a local church to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
In France, Santa Claus is known as "Le Père Noël." Children hang stockings by the fireplace, and Père Noël fills them with gifts. In some regions, he is joined by another figure called Père Fouettard, who is said to punish naughty children.
French families exchange gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Children eagerly anticipate their presents on Christmas morning.
A traditional French dessert for Christmas is the Yule log, or "Bûche de Noël." This cake is often shaped to resemble a log and is enjoyed after the Christmas meal.
The holiday season in France extends beyond Christmas, with New Year's Eve (La Saint-Sylvestre) being another major celebration. It involves parties, fireworks, and more festive gatherings.
In the Provence region of France, there is a tradition called "Les Treize Desserts" where 13 different desserts are served to represent Jesus and his 12 apostles. This is often part of the Christmas Eve feast.
French Christmas traditions vary by region, but overall, Christmas in France is a time for family, feasting, and the joy of giving and receiving gifts. It is a celebration of tradition, culture, and the warmth of togetherness.
Christmas in France is a time for get togethers with family and friends. It is a time to worship together, dine together and enjoy together.
Arranging the Nativity scene is a popular custom associated with the French Christmas season. During Christmas, nearly every home in the country displays a Nativity scene or creche which is the center of Christmas celebrations for families. Little clay figures called "santons" or "little saints" are placed in the creche. The "santons" are made by craftsmen in the south of France throughout the year. Throughout the Christmas season, the figures are sold at annual Christmas fairs in Marseille and Aix.
On Christmas Eve, children put out in the hearth their shoes or wooden clogs called sabots to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel, the French equivalent of the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus. The apparel of Pere Noel is akin to the older garb of Santa Claus in a long red hooded robe, edged with white fur. His presents are carried not in a sack, but in a basket or hotte on his back, like those carried by grape harvesters. Pere Noel is said to travel with his stern disciplinarian companion Pre Fouettard who reminds him how each child has behaved during the past year. A popular Christmas song for French children is Petit Papa Noel. Children write letters to Pere Noel in the hope of getting presents from him. Their wishes are fulfilled when they wake up in the morning to find not only their gifts but also sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys hanging somewhere closeby. Adults generally wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts.
On the eve of Christmas churches and cathedrals are beautifully lit with candles, church bells are rung and Christmas carols are sung by all present. In cathedral squares, the story of Christ's birth is re-enacted by both players and puppets. On Christmas Eve, after the midnight mass is over, a very late supper known as "Le reveillon" is held. The menu for the meal varies from region to region within the country. While goose is the main course in Alsace, it is oysters and pat de foie gra in Paris. In Burgundy it is turkey with chestnuts. The "buche de Nol", meaning "Christmas Log", is a traditional Yule log-shaped cake specially prepared here for Christmas and is an indispensable part of the grand French Christmas feast. Le Revellion may consist of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine.
The custom of Christmas tree decoration has never been that popular in France. The use of the Yule log has faded in the country, though in the southern parts a log is burned in individual homes from Christmas Eve until New Years Day.
Once dinner is over family members retire to bed but not before laying food and drinks on the table and leaving a fire burning. This is believed to be in honour of Virgin Mary who is supposed to visit homes during Christmastime.