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Christmas in France: a guide to French Christmas traditions

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Soak in the festive atmosphere with these classic French Christmas pastimes. This primer on the Christmas traditions used in France may help you feel more at ease with the upcoming celebrations.


The greatest approach to getting into the holiday mood of the French all season long is to adopt some French Christmas rituals. All or part of these 25 French Christmas traditions is welcome additions to your holiday celebrations this year.


1. Advent


In the last four weeks before Christmas, we devote ourselves entirely to preparations for the celebration. On December 1st, kids all around the world crack open the first "door" or "window" of their Advent calendar. By participating in this French holiday tradition, kids are pumped for all the upcoming festivities.


2. Christmas Eve


French Christmas celebrations often begin on the evening of December 24 and include several courses and beverages associated with the occasion in France. You may be acquainted with the French eating style, and this dinner is the perfect example of the custom of eating slowly. There might be a wait of up to six hours before the dinner is served.


3. Le Réveillon


This is the name for the massive, all-night party that the French throw the night before Christmas. Originating from the French term "reveiller," which means "to wake up or revive," this brand was given its current moniker. Due to the holiday's favorable timing for family get-togethers, more and more people are starting this French tradition on Christmas Day.


4. Midnight Mass


There is a church service on the eve of Christmas. Many French people still consider going to Christmas mass a crucial aspect of the holiday season, although more and more people are choosing to attend services on Christmas Day.


5. Traditional French Christmas food


Numerous French Christmas traditions revolve around feasting. Regional variations aside, here are a few examples of classic French Christmas fare:


● Sashimi and oysters on bran bread and butter (the genuine kind).

● foiegras (goose or duck liverpate)

● goose

● chestnuts may be placed into a capon or turkey.


veggie servings like green beans and potatoes seasoned with garlic and butter and regional herbs and sautéed in butter.


The Christmas log cake, or la bûche de Nol, is a kind of sponge cake that is shaped to seem like a yule log. Chocolate and chestnuts are the traditional ingredients. As the last dish of the Christmas feast, you may look forward to it.


6. Les Treize (13) desserts


Given how "tough" it is to imagine consuming 13 sweets after the main (big) Christmas feast, this Provencal French Christmas ritual is noteworthy. There is great significance to them in France since they depict Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper.


Dried figs, hazelnuts or walnuts, almonds, and dried grapes, as well as a cake called Pompe à l'huile, are common dessert options. Grapes and figs in sugar are two alternatives. France has a Christmas tradition where everyone must partake of all the sweets given to bring them luck for the next year.


7. French alcohol at Christmas


Aside from pubs and Christmas markets, mulled wine is rather prevalent in France. However, it is less frequent in French households. The Christmas dinner would not be complete without a bottle of Champagne and a bottle of very good wine.


8. Table decoration


The French put a lot of thought into setting a beautiful and inviting Christmas dinner table for their family and friends. It is customary to represent the Holy Trinity with three candlesticks on a table. For example, in France, it is a popular Christmas tradition to tie a knot in each corner of the tablecloth to keep the Devil from hiding under it.


9. The sapin de noël


It is not a rush to be ready for Santa Claus's arrival on Christmas Eve since the Christmas tree is usually decorated before the big day.


10. Shoes in front of the fireplace


Kids in France traditionally leave their shoes by the fireplace on Christmas Eve for Saint Nicholas to fill with gifts.


11. Les Cadeaux de Noël


Present opening time has here! Traditionally, children do not open their presents from Santa Claus until Christmas morning.


12. Le Père Fouettard


Father Spanker is Saint Nicholas's faithful friend and trusted helper on his quest. He rates the kids' actions and decides whether or not they were good. When kids misbehave, he is the one who hands them the "spankings."


13. The papillotes


These are the candies (or chocolates) with golden glimmering paper and fringed edges. A little handwritten letter may be found within. The papillote was developed around the end of the 18th century in the city of Lyon.


They have become a popular component of French Christmas traditions and can be found in most shops throughout the holiday season. They are an integral component of the French Christmas tradition and are used to decorate the holiday table.


14. Mistletoe


Mistletoe is an integral part of the Christmas decorations in France due to the longstanding customs surrounding the festival. There is no kissing involved in the Christmastime ritual of taking it out of storage and hanging it over one's door in the hopes that it would bring good fortune during the coming year.


15. Santons de Noël


Many French households have crèches, often known as nativity scenes. These little clay sculptures, called santons or miniature saints, may be found for sale at any of the holiday fairs. They are all over the creche. With the abundance of readily accessible materials, you may construct a crèche of almost any scale in your own house.


16. Crèche Vivante/ Pessebres


These are popular nativity scene displays in the southern part of France. They are displayed for several various reasons all during the holiday season.


17. La fête des Rois


On the sixth of January, exactly one week after Christmas, people commemorate the arrival of the Three Kings. The Three Kings Parade is a popular event for kids in many French cities.


18. La Galette des Rois


King's cake is a traditional French dessert served during Epiphany. There are three variations of this cake, but the most popular comprises puff pastry layers filled with frangipane or applesauce. As an alternative, you may try a sablé galette, which is a brioche-like cake or pastry shell that is covered with sugar and candied fruit. Traditionally, a little figure or bean is hidden in each cake, and the "king" who finds it receives a paper crown.


Traditionally, the youngest member of the family is the one to hide under the table and yell out the names of the persons to whom each slice of cake is to be given.


19. Chants de Noël


There are not a tonne of well-known French Christmas carols; instead, church hymns are often sung. This has resulted in a large influx of foreign Christmas music, particularly from the United Kingdom and Germany. Over time, French speakers have been able to sing non-religious songs originally written in other languages. For example, the French title of "Jingle Bells" is "Vive le vent."


20. French Christmas Greetings


Wishing each other Joyeux Noel or Bonnes Fêtes is a traditional part of the French holiday season. Before the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, it is considered bad luck to wish someone a Bonne Année, which means "Happy New Year."


21. Christmas cards


Many people do not keep their Christmas cards beyond a few days. Greeting card exchanges are a time-honored tradition that has become intertwined with the New Year's holiday season.


22. Christmas crackers


Christmas crackers were first created in the 19th century by Tom Smith, a British sailor who had just returned from a trip to Paris. He is said to have been inspired by the French 'bon bon' candy (almonds wrapped in exquisite paper) and to have begun selling them in London with a small inspirational word inserted inside. As a result, his offspring began handcrafting paper tiaras and presenting them as gifts, which ultimately contributed to the crown's phenomenal popularity in England. The unfortunate reality is that Christmas crackers have never been part of traditional French celebrations.


23. Festive circus


French kids like this tradition, which is central to the holiday season there.


24. Marché de Noel


Even if it is not a tradition that is exclusive to France, the Christmas market is a familiar sight in the country. You may get regional delicacies like foie gras and confit de canard, as well as handmade handicrafts and tourist trinkets, in smaller French towns and villages. The two given are just two of many possible instances.


25. Christkindelsmärik


This Christmas market, held annually since the 13th century, is France's most famous and oldest. In the Alsace area, in the city of Strasbourg, you will discover a great gift shop stocked with a broad variety of traditional French products.


Do you know of any more interesting French Christmas traditions? To choose one, which one do you prefer? Christmas is not about where you go or what you eat or how strictly you adhere to customs; it is about spending time with the people who mean the most to you.


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