[Featured series] Christmas Customs and Traditions – France

Christmas is widely celebrated all over the world in different cultures, countries and races and everyone  has their own unique way of celebrating the most famous holiday in the world. From customs and traditions to history and significance, what Christmas is for you may be very different for another.
As part of our series on Christmas, we look at Christmas in some countries around the world. We turn our attention to the land of escargots, copious amounts of wine drinking and home of the Mona Lisa – France.

France Photos
This photo of France is courtesy of TripAdvisor

In France, Christmas is  called ‘Noël. It represents a time when families get together and reconnect, celebrate the year that’s about to pass. Probably one of the biggest holidays in the calendar, Christmas is marked by gifts and candy for children, gifts for the poor, Midnight Mass, and le Réveillon. The celebration of Christmas in France varies from region to region. Generally most regions celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, which is a public holiday. That said, in certain provinces especially ones in eastern and northern France, like to get an early start to their Christmas season, as early as the 6 December (la fête de Saint Nicolas). For instance in Lyon, 8 December is la Fête de lumières, when the French honor the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows. It’s quite a sight seeing the city lit up by these candles.

Le Réveillon
Despite the fact that the number of french people attending la Messe de Minuit (Christmas mass) on Christmas Eve has been dwindling down over the years, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. Traditionally la Messe de Minuit is followed by a huge feast, named le Réveillon from the verb réveiller, to wake up or to revive. Le Réveillon represents the symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth and is the culinary feast and highlight of the year. Typically the feast is enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or café that is open all night. Each French province has its own traditional Christmas menu, consisting dishes such as goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, oysters, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).

French Christmas Traditions
It is customary for French children put their shoes (instead of the traditional socks) in front of the fireplace in their homes, hoping that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël/Santa Claus) will fill them with gifts. Many families in addition to putting up decorations will hang candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys on the tree overnight. In certain parts of France, the children believe that Père Fouettard gives out spankings to children who have misbehaved this year.

Interesting nugget of information: In 1962, a law was passed in France decreeing that all letters written to Santa would receive a reply in the form of a postcard.

French Christmas Decorations
The sapin de Noël (french Christmas tree) is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories. The sapin de Noël is typically decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was introduced in France in 1837. Next in French Christmas celebrations, we have the crèche (nativity scenes) which is displayed in churches and many homes. Crèches are filled with santons (figurines) and are commonly used in plays and puppet shows to teach children the important ideas of Christianity and significance of the Christmas celebration. During Christmas, mistletoe is hung above the door to bring good fortune and luck to the family and those who walk beneath it.

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