How Do People Celebrate Christmas in France?
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.
The French word for ‘Merry Christmas’ engulfs the atmosphere during the Christmas season in France. The celebrations which start on December 6 on Saint Nicholas day differ depending upon the regions. While some of the provinces celebrate Christmas on 25 December, for people from Northern and Eastern France, the Christmas celebrations starts on 6 January. For French people, Christmas is an occasion for family reunion and generosity. Gifts and candies are presented to children and Le Reveillon and Yule log cake forms the trademark of French Christmas celebrations. The festivities which lasts for 12 long days witnesses nativity scene or creche in which figures of little saints are displayed in churches and houses. It is also believed that Pere Noel accompanied by Pete Fouettard visits the French households with gifts, sweets and candies for good behaving children. Read further to know more about the various Christmas traditions and customs in France.
French Christmas Decorations
Like in Australia, the “sapin de Noël” is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops and offices. The history of the “sapin de Noël” in France is tracked back to the 14th century. Traditionally French Christmas tree were decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons. Christmas trees became popular in most regions of France in the late 1830’s.
Another festive and traditional decorative item used in French homes during the Christmas season is mistletoe. It is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the coming year.
French people take a great deal of care when creating decorations for the Christmas Eve dinner, particularly ornaments for the dining table, which must look elegant and inviting.
French Christmas Traditions
The fun of Christmas in France happens mostly in the build to Christmas Day, the highlight of the festive season being le Réveillon (Christmas Eve). On the evening of December 24th, French families sit down together to celebrate Christmas and enjoy a variety of the most delicious dishes and wines. The Réveillon dinner can continue for up to six hours and it is a very sacred tradition to the French. Eating at the table for a long time is also a social custom in France.
Food is still a very important part of Christmas day, particularly at lunch time when it is common to eat the left over from the Christmas Eve feast or to go celebrate with another side of the family (in laws).
Gifts & Presents
On Christmas Eve, small French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace (or at the bottom of the Christmas tree), in the hopes that Père Noël (literally translate “Father Christmas”) – Santa Claus – will fill them with gifts. If the household is made of older children, there is no need to wait until December 25th to unwrap the gifts! Usually, the kids will start unwrapping at 12 am sharp on Christmas Eve, while the parents are still feasting on delicacies and Champagne!
Traditionally, French Christmas carols consisted mainly of hymns from the church. Over time, non-religious songs have been translated from different languages into French, such as Mon Beau Sapin (from German O Tannenbaum) or Vive le vent (from English Jingle Bells). In addition, French singer-songwriters have come up with their own Christmas songs as well, the most popular of these being the children’s classic Petit Papa Noël.
French Christmas Cuisine
The special Christmas meal in France is most often served following the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. This meal is called le Reveillon, and the food served at the meal varies by region and family. Expect a large meal, complete with soup or other appetizer preceding, and followed by a delectable dessert (most often the Bûche de Noël or ‘Christmas Log’) and a cheese platter. Popular main courses are goose and other exotic poultry, as well as seafood. In French fashion, the meal will last a long time, be served on a beautifully-set table, and be accompanied by wine. While some French Christmas traditions are relatively new, the festive meal has always been a part of Christmas in France.