Christmas Traditions in France

Written by on November 24, 2011 in Christmas Markets

christmas traditions france

Christmas traditions in France – all you need to know to enjoy a French style Noel.

Christmas in France is not really very commercial and the hype doesn’t start months before the day – unless you’re in Paris where the Christmas lights are switched on towards the end of November.

French traditions at Christmas

Traditionally French children place their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that Father Christmas or as he is called in FrancePère Noël (or sometimes called Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts.

Sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys are hung on the tree overnight.  In some regions, there can be a visit from Père Fouettard who is Father Christmas’ companion.  Père Fouettard (which translates as The Whipping Father) dispenses lumps of coal and has a stick to give spankings to the naughty children!

Christmas for children is taken seriously here reflected by the fact that in 1962, a law was passed ensuring that every child who writes a letter to Father Christmas gets a response – if a whole school class writes to Pere Noël – every child gets an individual reply!

The sapin de Noël (Christmas tree) is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories.

This custom first appeared in Alsace in the 14th century and traditional decorations included apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was introduced in France in 1837.

Another important aspect of French Christmas tradition is the crèche filled with santons (little Saints),  these are displayed in churches and many homes – driving round France at Christmas time one can see many of these scenes in front gardens – some good some not so much!

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.

We also see a huge amount of plastic Santas hung out of windows, from roofs and gutters – pretty much anywhere you can hang a rather horrible plastic Santa really – they are not everyone’s cup of tea but they are very popular and the kids certainly seem to find it fun.

Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year.

christmas traditions in france

Another French Christmas tradition is held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day to have a réveillon.  This is a long dinner, sometimes a party, and the name comes from the literal meaning of the word réveil (meaning “waking”), because attending a réveillon involves staying awake until midnight or later!  French hosts push the boat out on this occasion and often the food is luxurious with plenty of wine and champagne.   After Réveillon, it’s customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by.

We’ve put together a few words to help you make the most of Christmas in the French language, whether it’s to help if you are asked to a réveillon, to wish your friends and neighbours a happy holiday or to attend a church service or a party or drinks, we hope you find it useful –click here to go to our helpful French language guide to Christmas.

You’ll find that most villages where a street market is held, even the smallest ones, will hold a Christmas market. Traditionally decorated festive market stalls loaded with seasonal gifts and handmade crafts tempt you in the nicest possible way.  There are often brilliantly coloured wooden cabins decorated with fairy lights and the scents of traditional French gastronomic delights and mulled wine fill the air.  You’ll usually find regional delicacies such as cheese, jams, foie gras and escargot, beautifully plaited smoked garlic, handmade gifts including Christmas decorations, children’s toys and unusual ornaments.

A word of warning though – it can be very cold at Christmas time sometimes falling below zero so wrap up warm –  a glass of mulled wine helps too – and enjoy it.

Joyeux Noel!

Related Articles

Bethune Christmas market northern France

A short drive from Calais brings you to the town of Bethune in the Hauts de France region, department Pas de Calais. It’s not that well known on the tourist map, overlooked for its larger neighbours Lille and Arras as well as arty favourite Lens with its swanky branch of the Louvre. Bethune, northern France […]

Continue Reading

Christmas Markets Alsace 2018

Alsace is pretty much where modern Christmas started almost 500 years ago. It was the first place to hold a Christmas market, to have Christmas trees in homes and it’s where the Christmas bauble was invented! Located in north-eastern France, Alsace, like Lorraine, is unlike other French regions in that its culture is heavily influenced by its […]

Continue Reading

Le Touquet Christmas Market 2018

Le Touquet is a smart, chic and delightful seaside town on the Opal Coast about 45 minutes from Calais. Famous for its lights, shops and art deco covered market place, Le Touquet makes for a lovely Christmas market visit. This year the gorgeous Le Touquet lights will be illuminated on Friday 30 November. The Christmas […]

Continue Reading

Boulogne-sur-Mer Christmas Market 2018

Those who have discovered the old town of Boulogne-sur-Mer will be aware how very pretty this part of the port town is and at Christmas time it’s even more magical. Enter the old town through the immense stone gates cut into the high walls and discover a real winter wonderland. This is one of my […]

Continue Reading

Lille Christmas Market 2018

Lille Christmas Market 2018

Written by on November 25, 2018 in Christmas Markets

For those who take their Christmas shopping seriously, it would be hard to find a better place in Europe than Lille. Not only are there almost 4000 shops in this city in northern France but there is also a super festive Christmas market and cultural attractions galore… Festive fun at Lille’s Christmas market Based in […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top