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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

French Christmas Traditions

I thought it might be interesting to research the different Christmas traditions from around the world.  This week, I thought I'd start out with France and next week I'll do a different country.

In France, Christmas is a time for family and for generosity, marked by family reunions, gifts and candy for children, gifts for the poor, Midnight Mass, and le Réveillon. The celebration of Christmas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, which is a bank holiday. However, in eastern and northern France, the Christmas season begins on 6 December, la fête de Saint Nicolas, and in some provinces la fête des Rois* is one the most important holidays of the Christmas season.

In Lyon, 8 December is la Fête de lumières, when Lyonnais pay hommage to the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows to light up the city. *Epiphany (la fête des Rois) is usually celebrated the 6th of January, but in some places in France it is celebrated the first Sunday after January 1st.

 French Christmas Traditions:  French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight. In some regions there's also Père Fouettard who gives out spankings to bad children (sort of the equivalent of Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty). In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response.

Pere Noel in 1920 France
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 Le Réveillon:  Although fewer and fewer French attend la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. It is followed by a huge feast, called le Réveillon (from the verb réveiller, to wake up or to revive). Le Réveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth and is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or café that is open all night. Each region in France has its own traditional Christmas menu, with dishes like goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, oysters, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).

 French Christmas Desserts:  Throughout the French Christmas season, there are special traditional desserts: La bûche de Noël (Yule log) - A log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. Representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day in the Périgord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration. Le pain calendal (in southern France) - Christmas loaf, part of which is traditionally given to a poor person. Treize desserts (in Provence) - nothing like going a little overboard during the holidays. La Galette des Rois (on Epiphany) - round cake which is cut into pieces and distributed by a child, known as le petit roi or l'enfant soleil, hiding under the table. Whoever finds la fève - the charm hidden inside - is King or Queen and can choose a partner.

La buche de noel (Yule Log)

La Galette des Rois
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 French Christmas Decorations The sapin de Noël is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories. The sapin de Noël appeared in Alsace in the 14th century, decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was introduced in France in 1837. Another important aspect of French Christmas celebrations is the crèche filled with santons, which is displayed in churches and many homes. Living crèches in the form of plays and puppet shows based on the Nativity are commonly performed to teach the important ideas of Christianity and the Christmas celebration. Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year. After Réveillon, its customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by.

Sapin de noel (Christmas tree)

Santons of Provence
Source via ~
Source via ~ French Traditions


  1. This was beautiful...I love traditions from different places. Scotland has a lot of them to that I've learned over the years being here. Sad though, how some people have lost the traditions of this time of year and think it's all about getting presents and nothing much else!! I like to keep the traditions going :) Hope you have a gorgeous day doll xoxo

  2. Oh my, that creche is amazing...I'd love one like that! It's always interesting to see and hear how other countries celebrate the day. When my brother and I were little, in England, our presents were left at the end of our bed in a pillowcase so we would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and open them while my parents slept. After we moved to Canada, they started putting our presents under the tree, which is what I always did for the boys:)

  3. How interesting! Yesterday I started to write a blog post (it is not finished yet) about Christmas traditions in Norway, and my intentions is to challenge readers to write about their christmas traditions in their region/country, or family. When I have done so, you can make a link to your post her! Oh, I have to hurry up with the post!

  4. Sorry for my bad english, I ment: can make a link to your post as a comment! Great

  5. Hi Kris - I love this - so interesting what other countries do to celebrate Xmas. France has many great traditions, giving to the poor is something us Danes could learn a bit from. Great post, thanks for sharing and if you need any help on the danish traditions, let me know:) Happy weekend sweets,

  6. I think I am losing track of time It so much to do before Christmas, and my snos birthday due on a coule of days...
    I'll go staight to the French desserts I think Kris ; )

    ps. lovely post you should certainly share it with Lises when she does hers!

  7. One day I will master the making of the Buche de Noel.

  8. Such lovely traditions that the French have, Kris. My mom used to always put fruit and nuts in our stockings along with Christmas candy. My sister told me years later that she did this because her mom used to put fruit and nuts in her stocking too. Traditions are a wonderful thing, and I have several of my own. They pass from generation to generation, how special is that? The Yule log looks so yummy.
    ~Sheri at Red Rose Alley

  9. Kris,
    I love this idea of you posting about traditions in different countries. When I was teaching, we used to take a week teaching Christmas customs from different countries. Of course, we worked in a little geography but the kids loved it.

  10. great idea to write about the different traditions.
    ours it not much different from France's

  11. Oui elles sont belles ces traditions françaises,et en Provence il y a 13 desserts...

    merci de tes gentils mots si souvent..



  12. That 1920' s Pere looks like an impostor to me and I'll take a galette de roi any day! Miam miam!

  13. what a lovely post. I remember yule logs when we lived in France, yum. xo

  14. What a lovely idea. It is always interesting to learn more about the traditions of other countries. The Galette looks good, particularly as I forgot to bring my lunch to work with me today! M x

  15. what a great post-thank you for telling me some traditions I did not know. The gallette was what I ate on the metro and made a huge mess of it and myself. haha


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