christmas traditions

Christmas traditions in France are celebrated as in many countries around the world but they are very  much a family holiday. Christmas which is known as Noël in France begins on December 5th, the eve of St Nicholas when family and friends give each other small gifts.

Even though this tradition still exists today, many now wait until Christmas eve itself before celebrating by exchanging gifts and awaiting for Père Noël or Father Christmas to visit their homes for the children. Some families celebrate both these days with gifts. 

The Christmas tree may be decorated in some French homes but most will have a Nativity scene or creche which is displayed for the holiday period and serves as the focus for the  Noël celebration. This usually consists of the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Magi, shepherds and some animals.

You will find many crafted Nativity scenes in the local markets around this period and they really are beautifully crafted. 

The children will bring home moss, stones, and evergreen branches to add to the crèche, and when the candles are lit it really becomes the centrepiece of the Christmas celebration. And of  course the children gather around the crèche to sing carols every night until Epiphany, on the 6th of January. In Provence it is traditional for people to dress as shepherds and take part in a procession and walk around the local church.

Christmas plays and puppet shows are very popular entertainments in France at Christmas, particularly in Paris and Lyons and the shop windows of some of their large department stores will have wonderful displays of animated figures which are truly wonderful for any child to see.

Of course the Christmas tree has not been such a popular tradition in France, but one of their Christmas traditions is the Yule log which today is symbolised by the Yule log cake or Buche de Noel. This is a delicious cake made in the shape of a log and covered in a flavoured icing or cream to resemble the bark and sometimes a little powdered sugar for the snow. This is a lovely change from the heavier Christmas fruit cakes with which many of us are familiar.

Food is of the utmost importance at this time and in some regions in France Christmas traditions begin with a family feast which is held immediately following the midnight Mass in church. The feast may vary according to regional culinary tradition in Brittany, the traditional midnight supper is buckwheat cakes and sour cream whereas in Alsace, goose is often the main course and in Burgundy it is turkey with chestnuts. The Parisians may feast upon oysters and pat de foie gras and pate.

Some families prefer a wonderful Beef casserole or Daube which is left simmering all day  filling the house with the wonderful aromas of the meat and herbs. This is then ready for everyone when they arrive back home following Midnight Mass. This feast is called Le Revellion, and it may also consist of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine.
Of course, once this feast is over and the family have retired to bed, they leave a fire burning and often food and drink on the table in case the Virgin Mary calls, and, like Christmas traditions everywhere, the children leave their shoes or wooden clogs (called sabots) in the hearth for Père Noel to fill!

There are many more Christmas traditions in the various regions of France including French Christmas markets which are a truly wonderful place to buy your Christmas fare. This is a great way to spend a Christmas break and enjoy all that France has to offer at this festive time.

I do hope this has been a little insight into France at Christmas time.