Christmas traditions in France are fun to learn about. They celebrate many traditions similar to the U.S. and also have several unique traditions. Join Robin today as we travel through France at Christmas!
During a recent trip to Lille, France, to visit my son who is studying abroad, I learned a lot about how the French celebrate Christmas.
In French, Happy/Merry Christmas is Joyeux Noël.
Originally the French decorated their trees with apples, candles, and biscuits (cookies). They began using ball ornaments after a particularly bad apple harvest. The picture below shows trees near Leonardo de Vinci's tomb that has the traditional green apple decorations.
Many of the French decorations include snowglobes and nutcrackers. They also use many nature items for decoration.
In the streets, they hang lights similar to the U.S.
One of the major traditions during the holidays is the Christmas Markets. Towns and cities have fairs that sell Christmas items, food, and other goods. These fairs are big events with dozens of booths and often a Ferris wheel, carousel, and other activities.
Lille was the first city in France to offer a Christmas market. The market runs from mid-November to the end of December, and shops are even open on the three Sundays before Christmas. You will find the Lille Christmas market located on Rihour Square.
Video by Haruka Kamegaya (Used with Permission)
One item that is very popular is the Nativity. The French use a Nativity as decoration in the home as well as in stores, etc. The Nativity is made of clay figures. Not only do they include the traditional shepherd, wise men, etc. but often the scene includes a policeman, butcher, priest, etc.
In France, they display the Nativity scene until February 2. This is known as La Chandeleur. It is forty days past Christmas. The date actually marks when Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem. Today they celebrate La Chandeleur by eating crêpes.
It is a French tradition that the whole family helps to cut the log down preferably from cherry wood. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. A little bit is burnt each night. If any of the log is left after Twelfth Night, it is kept safe in the house until the next Christmas to protect against lightning!
One unique custom is to leave the log and candles burning during the night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come visit during the night.
Santa Claus is known as Père Noël (Father Christmas) in France. He passes by at midnight. He brings toys to good little boys and girls after the evening Mass on Christmas Eve.
In eastern France, Santa is accompanied by Le Pere Foueltard, a man dressed in black. His job is to greet those coming to meet Santa and to distribute sweets. Perhaps similar to elves in the states.
Many families open gifts on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve Dinner
Le Réveillon de Noël is Christmas Eve dinner. It is sometimes eaten earlier but usually around midnight or later after church services. So it is really Christmas Day. French families eat a special meal to celebrate the very beginning of Christmas Day.
As mentioned earlier, the main Christmas meal is known as Réveillon. It is eaten early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight church services. Food typically served includes roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, Oysters, lobsters, venison, and cheeses.
Foie gras means “fat liver” and is a delicacy that is often served on Christmas with the main meal. It is a luxury food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened by force-feeding corn with a feeding tube, a process also known as gavage.
Foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavor is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of an ordinary duck or goose liver. Foie gras is sold whole, or can be prepared and sold as a mousse, parfait, or pâté.
Dessert usually includes a chocolate sponge cake and pudding Yule Log called a bûche de Noël. The outside is covered with chocolate or chocolate icing and decorated to look like a bark-covered log.
In some parts of France, 13 different desserts are eaten. They are made from different types of fruit, nuts, and pastries.
Soup for Breakfast
After the big feast meal and opening gifts the French often have Onion Soup around 4 or 5 AM. They eat the onion soup with cheese and toasted bread.
On January 6, they celebrate Fête des Rois (Holiday of the Kings). We know this as Epiphany. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem. To celebrate they eat a flat almond cake called Galette des Rois. It is composed of a puff pastry cake filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs, and sugar. A small charm or toy crown is hidden inside. The top is decorated with a gold paper crown or crown design in the pastry.
Christmas is an exciting time in most countries. It is interesting to learn about the different ways each celebrates the birth of Jesus. Christmas traditions in France have a history all of their own.
Merry Christmas – Joyeux Noël!