Father Christmas or Santa Claus is known as 'Pere Noel' in France. According to French Christmas legends, Pere Noel or Papa Noel gives presents to children who behave well throughout the year. He is accompanied by Pere Fouettard, his dark alter ego cohort, who informs Pere Noel as to which children have been good and which ones behaved badly during the year. Pere Noel is portrayed as an old man, dressed in the traditional red and white attire. He travels around the world on his donkey or on his sleigh pulled by reindeers and stops at houses to leave presents for good children. The French fill shoes and logs with treats for Pere Noel's donkey or reindeers on Christmas Eve. They do this to please Pere Noel so that he may leave gifts for them. French traditions include preparation of the Christmas log cake, burning of the Yule log till New Year's Day and enactment of nativity scenes. Read on to know more about Pere Noel, the French Santa Claus.
The French Santa Clause
In France, the traditional Christmas gift-giver is known as Pere Noel who is also referred to as 'Papa Noel'. Like the gift-givers in most places, Pere Noel is a legendary Christmas character who is known to bring gifts for good children on Christmas. In some parts of France, Pere Noel is believed to bring gifts on St. Nicholas's Day as well. He is depicted as an old man with a long white beard and bushy white eyebrows, wearing a red suit with a black belt around his waist. He is also shown carrying a brown sack filled with toys, for children. Just like Santa Claus, Pere Noel stops at every good child's house, climbs down through the chimney and leaves presents for the children who deserve them. 'Pere Fouettard', or the bogeyman, is the evil companion of Pere Noel, who is said to chaperon Pere Noel during his journeys and frighten the children who have been bad.
French Christmas Traditions
Christmas is a cheerful occasion celebrated with splendor and mirth. In France, Pere Noel is believed to be the giver of gifts to good children. Read on to learn more about the French Santa Claus.
- Christmas is called ‘Noel’ in France and there are many traditional allegories and beliefs that are associated with the French Christmas.
- According to early French traditions, children would write letters to Père Noël, their Santa Claus, asking him for particular Christmas presents. A law was passed in 1962 which stated that every letter written to Père Noël was to be replied to with a return postcard.
- French children fill their shoes or wooden logs, referred to as ‘sabots’, with treats, hay and carrots for Père Noël’s donkey/reindeers and set them by the fireplace before going to bed.
- Today, many people in France give more importance to Christmas trees than the traditional fireplaces. The Christmas trees are elaborately decorated with curious, nuts, candies, tiny shoes and small toys.
- French children rush to their Christmas trees or fireplaces on Christmas morning, and open Père Noël’s gifts. Sometimes, the children open their presents on Christmas Eve, either after the Midnight Mass or after ‘Christmas Réveillon’ dinner.
- The ‘Christmas Réveillon’ is a magnificent feast celebrated after the Midnight Mass. The French traditional Christmas cake is made in the form of a Yule log and is called ‘büche de Noël l’, which is an inherent French custom, followed for years. This cake is the chief facet of the Christmas Réveillon dinner.
- Almost all French houses display the nativity scene or crèche during Christmas. The setting up of ‘la crèche’ is an important, age-old French custom. Small clay figurines of Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, saints, shepherds, The Three Kings, angels and other essential Christmas characters are placed in a crèche mirroring the birth of Jesus Christ.
- A few families living in southern France burn a log on Christmas Eve and keep it burning till New Year’s Day. They use a part of the burnt log as a wedge for their family’s rototiller for good luck.
Christmas season is a time when family and friends get together and celebrate the joyous occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ with great gusto. In line with the unique Christmas traditions around the world, Pere Noel is the charismatic gift-bringer who, like Santa Claus, is eagerly awaited upon by numerous children in France all year. From filling 'sabots' with treats to promising to be good children, the children in France go all out in trying to please Pere Noel.