What do the French do at Christmas ?

Like in the UK ,on 1 December children open their first ‘window in their Advent calendar.

In the evening of December 24th French families sit down together for ‘Le Réveillon’ to celebrate Christmas and enjoy festive French foods and wines. This can last for up to six hours.

A church mass is held on Christmas Eve. It is an important Christmas tradition in France and many people try to attend the mass, although there are also services on Christmas Day.

Traditional French food is a big part of French Christmas traditions. It depends on the region but some common French Christmas foods include smoked salmon and oysters with bran bread and (real) butter, foiegras (goose or duck liverpate), goose, capon or turkey stuffed with chestnuts and of course servings of vegetables such as green beans cooked with garlic and butter and provincial herbs sautéed potatoes.

To finish the feast you will get the amazing looking and tasting a Yule Log, the ‘La bûche de Noël ‘ which is a sponge cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. In Provençe the French Christmas tradition is very different. It’s ‘Les Treize ‘ which is 13 desserts after the main Christmas feast.  In France they are important as they symbolise Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper.

During Christmas dinner a very good wine is required and Champagne is imperative.

It’s common to decorate the Christmas table with three candlesticks to represent the holy Trinity. A Christmas tradition to knot the ends of the tablecloth so the Devil can’t get under the table.

Like the UK a Christmas tree is decorated some time before Christmas Day. French children put their shoes near the fireplace so that Father Christmas ‘Père Noël’ can find them and fill them with small presents. Then typically everyone open their presents on the morning of Christmas Day.

Here it’s worth mentioning Le Père Fouettard or ‘Father Spanker’ who is the partner and helper of Saint Nicolas. He decides if each kid behaved good or bad. He is the one who does the ‘spanking’ to bad behaving children. Frightening.

Mistletoe is popular in French Christmas traditions and used as an important decorative item. People hang it above the door during the Christmas season, where it is supposed to bring good luck for the coming year 

Then there are Santons de Noël These are the nativity scenes or crèches displayed in many French homes. There are little clay figures called santons or little saints in the crèche, which you can buy from Christmas markets. Very often villages will transom their Lavoir into a stable with cut-out figures. The baby Jesus only appears on Christmas day – until then the crib will be empty

 And then on 6th January, the 12th night – a day to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings. Some places in France perform a street procession of the Three Kings for children to watch. The ‘king’s cake’ celebrates Epiphany in France. There are three versions of this cake and the most popular consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a center of frangipane or apple. There is also a sablé galette which has a type of sweetcrust pastry and brioche cake with candied fruits and sugar. The cakes are usually sold in special bags with the paper crown for the ‘king’ who finds the fève – a small figure/bean hidden in their piece of cake.

Traditionally, it is always the youngest in the family who distributes the pieces of cake hiding below the table and shouting the name of the person who should get each piece.

 French people wish each other Joyeux Noël or Bonnes Fêtes.

BUT PLEASE TAKE NOTE – It’s important never to wish anyone a Bonne Année (Happy New Year) before midnight on New Year’s Eve as this brings bad luck.


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