Joyeux Noel! - 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.
Customs, Traditions & Celebrations
Nativity Scene Or Creche
During Christmas, nativity scene or creche forms the focus in France. The creche will often have little clay figures known as Santons or 'little saints' and will be displayed in houses and churches. Apart from the normal characters, Holy Family, shepherds and Magi too figure in creche. You get these figures in annual Christmas fair which is held in Marseille and Aix. Living creches in the form of puppet shows and plays based on Nativity are usually performed to teach the ideas of Christianity.
Le Reveillon is late held supper on Christmas Eve after midnight mass. The menu for the Christmas dinner varies as per the regional culinary tradition. If in Alsace, it is goose, its turkey along with chestnuts in Burgundy. In Paris, people feed on oysters, lobster and log shaped cake. It is also a tradition to top the Reveillon with thirteen desserts symbolising Jesus Christ and twelve apostles. After Reveillon, it is customary to keep a candle burning as Virgin Mary passes across the houses. Christmas songs are also sung to celebrate the day. The Yule log shaped cake which is known as Buche de Nol which means 'Christmas log' in French is a major dish in France during Christmas. The cake is served at the grand feast of the season.
During Christmas, children in France receive gifts from Pere Noel who is accompanied by Pere Fouettard who reminds the former of the way each child behaved during the past year. On Christmas Eve, kids put their shoes by the fireplace and find sweets, toys and nuts, the following morning.
Sapin de Noel
In France, the main Christmas decoration in homes, streets, shops, factories and offices is sapin de Noel which was introduced first in France in 1837. In this, the Christmas tree would be decorated with apples, paper flowers and ribbons. This is said to symbolise the venue of Christ. French people use fir trees for this as they do not lose leaves during winter which signifies hope and eternal life. A star is kept at the top of the tree along with red ribbons and candles. This is pointed towards heaven. People hang mistletoe above the door to bring good luck. In the decorations, green and red are the dominant colours that are used in France. The streets and houses would be decorated with lights, candles, balloons, artificial snow, ribbons, Christmas tree and stars.
Burning Of Yule Log
In southern France, Yule log is burned from Christmas Eve to New Year. As per popular legends, this tradition brings good harvest. Even in these days, people observe this custom as they believe that this brings good luck to them. In other areas of France, the Yule log was brought to the home accompanied by carols. The mother or a girl of the family lit the log and the cinders from it protect the house from Devil.
Twelfth Night /Epiphany
On the twelfth night, children would go out to meet the three kings who are on their way to see Baby Jesus. Children would give food to the three kings and gets gifts in return. To honour this legend, a Christmas dessert is prepared which is known by the name, 'Cake of The King' in which women bake a cake and hide a bean inside. Those who find the bean in the cake slice are made 'queen' or 'king' for the day. This cake still graces the Christmas tables in France.
Interesting traditions and customs are in waiting for French Christmas celebrations. Hope this makes you aware of some of those traditions.
There are plenty of interesting customs and traditions that are associated with French Christmas celebrations. Read further to know more about the Christmas in France