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Christmas in France: a guide to French Christmas traditions

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Enjoy yourself in the joyous spirit of traditional French Christmas activities. Prepare yourself for the holiday season with this introduction to the customs that are observed throughout Christmas in France.

Taking on certain French Christmas customs is the best way to immerse oneself in the festive spirit of the French throughout the holiday season. Include any or all of these 25 Christmas customs from France in your holiday festivities this year.

1. Advent

All of our attention during the last four weeks leading up to Christmas is focused on getting ready for the holiday. On December 1st, children begin the tradition of opening the first "window" or "door" on their Advent calendar. This French Christmas custom gets children even more psyched for the many Christmas celebrations that are yet to come.

2. Christmas Eve

On the evening of the 24th of December, French families gather together to celebrate Christmas & enjoy various meals and wines that are traditional to the holiday in France. This supper is the best illustration of the French habit of taking their time while eating, which you may be familiar with from hearing about how the French eat. The meal may be delayed for as long as six hours.

3. Le Réveillon

This is the term given to the large and drawn-out celebration that takes place in France on the evening before Christmas. The word "reveiller," which means "to wake up or revive," is where the name derives from. It is becoming more common for families to begin this French Christmas custom on Christmas Day since this is the time of year when it is most convenient for the whole family to be together.

4. Midnight Mass

On the evening before Christmas, there is a service at the church. Even though more and more individuals are opting to attend services on Christmas Day, attending Christmas mass is still considered to be an essential part of the holiday season for many people in France.

5. Traditional French Christmas food

The consumption of food plays a significant role in many Christmas customs in France. It varies from area to region, however, some traditional French Christmas delicacies are as follows:

smoked salmon and oysters served over bran bread with butter (the genuine kind).

foiegras (goose or duck liverpate)


chestnuts may be placed into a capon or turkey.

portions of vegetables like green beans prepared with garlic & butter and potatoes seasoned with regional herbs and sautéed in butter.

La bûche de Nol, often known as a Christmas log, is a kind of sponge cake designed to appear like a yule log. Traditionally, it is composed of chocolate and chestnuts. It will be served to you as the last course of the holiday meal.

6. Les Treize (13) desserts

This is a Provencal French Christmas custom, but it is worth noting since it seems so "difficult" — can you picture eating 13 sweets after the main (large) Christmas feast? They are significant in France because they represent Christ and the 12 apostles gathered together for the Last Supper.

Desserts often consist of fruits, nuts, and sugary foods such as dried figs, hazelnuts or walnuts, almonds, and dried grapes, or a cake known as Pompe à l'huile. Other options include candied figs and grapes. Everyone in France is required to sample all of the desserts that are being served as parts of this Christmas ritual to ensure that they will have good fortune in the new year.

7. French alcohol at Christmas

While you won't see mulled wine served as often in French homes as you will in bars and at Christmas markets in France, mulled wine is rather common in France. A bottle of really high-quality wine and a bottle of Champagne are prerequisites for the Christmas supper.

8. Table decoration

The French people place a great deal of importance on the appearance of their Christmas dinner table, making sure that it is both beautiful and welcoming. The Holy Trinity is often symbolized by placing three candlesticks on a table since this is a popular practice. One of the most fascinating Christmas customs practiced in France is the tying of knots in the tablecloth's corners to prevent the Devil from crawling beneath the table.

9. The sapin de noël

Since the Christmas tree is often decorated sometimes before Christmas Day, there is plenty of time to get everything ready for Santa Claus's visit on Christmas Eve.

10. Shoes in front of the fireplace

Children in France set their shoes by the fireplace so that Saint Nicholas, the man who brings gifts on Christmas Eve, might discover them and stuff them with goodies.

11. Les Cadeaux de Noël

It's time to open gifts! The children normally wait until the morning of Christmas Day to unwrap the gifts that Father Christmas has brought to them throughout the night.

12. Le Père Fouettard

Saint Nicholas is aided in his mission by his companion and assistant, Father Spanker. He evaluates each child's behavior and concludes whether it was excellent or terrible. He is the one who physically corrects misbehaving youngsters by giving them a "spanking."

13. The papillotes

These are the chocolates (or candied fruits) that have been wrapped in paper that glitters golden and has ends that are fringed. On the inside of it is a little note that has been penned. At the close of the 18th century, the city of Lyon was the birthplace of the papillote.

They are now a delectable part of the Christmas celebrations in France, and they are widely available in stores during the holiday season. They are traditionally used to adorn the Christmas table and constitute an important part of the Christmas customs practiced in France.

14. Mistletoe

Traditions surrounding the celebration of Christmas in France place a significant emphasis on the usage of mistletoe as a key component of the holiday's décor. People take it out over the Christmas season and hang it above their door, where it is said to bring good luck throughout the next year; however, there is no kissing involved in this tradition.

15. Santons de Noël

These are the crèches, often known as nativity scenes, that can be seen in many French houses. You can pick up these itty-bitty clay figurines, known as santons or miniature saints, at any of the Christmas markets. The crèche is filled with them. You can put together a crèche of any size at home since there is such a wide variety of components available for purchase.

16. Crèche Vivante/ Pessebres

These are nativity scene displays that are very well-liked, especially in the southwestern region of France. Throughout the Christmas season, they are put on a variety of different occasions.

17. La fête des Rois

The coming of the Three Kings is celebrated on January 6th, the day after Christmas. Children are invited to go and observe a parade of the Three Kings in certain cities and towns around France.

18. La Galette des Rois

In France, Epiphany is celebrated with a confection called "king's cake." There are three distinct iterations of this cake, but the one that is enjoyed the most has layers of flaky puff pastry with a frangipane or apple filling in the middle. A sablé galette is another option, and it consists of a sort of sweet crust pastry or brioche cake that is topped with candied fruits and sugar. The cakes are often packaged in unique bags that include a paper crown for the "king" who unearths the fève, which is a little figurine or bean tucked somewhere in each customer's slice of cake.

It is customary for the youngest member of the family to be the one to hand out the pieces of cake while hiding below the table and calling out the names of the people who are supposed to get each piece.

19. Chants de Noël

There are not many many traditional Christmas songs in French; most of the time, hymns from churches are used in their place. Because of this, a significant number of Christmas songs have been imported from the United Kingdom, Germany, and other countries. Non-religious songs from other languages have been translated into French with time. For instance, the title of the French version of "Jingle Bells" is "Vive le vent."

20. French Christmas Greetings

The French people celebrate the holiday season by wishing one another Joyeux Noel or Bonnes Fêtes. On New Year's Eve, you should never wish somebody a Bonne Année, which means "Happy New Year," before the stroke of midnight, since doing so is considered unlucky.

21. Christmas cards

In most households, there are just a few Christmas cards. Sending greeting cards is a time-honored custom associated with the New Year celebration.

22. Christmas crackers

Tom Smith, a British sailor who had just returned from a trip to Paris, is credited for inventing Christmas crackers in the 19th century. It is said that he saw the French 'bon bon' candies (almonds wrapped in elegant paper), and after returning to London, he began selling them with a short motivational phrase tucked inside each one. After that, his kids started making paper crowns and giving them out as presents, which led to the product's huge success in England. Sadly, Christmas crackers have never been a part of the customs of the French holiday.

23. Festive circus

This is a well-known aspect of the Christmas celebration in France, and children just like it!

24. Marché de Noel

The Christmas market is a fairly common sight in France, even though it is not necessarily a custom that is unique to France. In some towns and villages in France, you may purchase artisanal goods, souvenirs, and regional gastronomic specialties like foie gras and confit de canard. These are just two examples.

25. Christkindelsmärik

This is France's most renowned and oldest Christmas market, and it dates back to the 13th century. You can find it in Strasbourg, which is located in the Alsace region and it has a wide selection of classic French items that can be purchased as presents.

Do you have any more French Christmas customs that you think would be fun to try? Which one do you like the most? At the end of the day, what matters most about Christmas is not the location, the cuisine, or the traditions that are observed, but rather the company of those who are significant to you.



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