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Christmas in France, Customs & Traditions

Updated on January 10, 2017
Christmas at Galleries Lafayette, Paris
Christmas at Galleries Lafayette, Paris | Source

Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. In France, it is celebrated with all the grace and gusto befitting the French. No other country in Europe celebrates Christmas in such a fashion. Even the American holiday is overshadowed by the festivities the French culture imbues into its celebrations.

Tourists from all over the globe travel to France in droves to experience the lovely tidings of the season. The foods are widely varied, from beautiful, handcrafted candies to the traditional Christmas Goose. The lights hung around the country are a wonder to behold and there are many different celebrations throughout the season itself. It is important to take a closer look to see why the holidays are celebrated so differently in France.

There's a reason Paris is called the "City of Lights."
There's a reason Paris is called the "City of Lights." | Source

French Christmas Traditions

There are several French Christmas traditions sprinkled throughout this article, but I wanted to note the following (in particular as they are so wonderful!)

Traditionally, if there is a Christmas tree it is decorated with candies, nuts, and small toys by Père Noel (Santa Claus) when he visits on Christmas Eve. French children will leave their shoes by the fireplace or by the door for Père Noel to fill with gifts.

The Christmas tree is actually more of a German tradition, but there are definitely many French families who celebrate Christmas with a tree. Those living on the French-German border are more likely to have a Christmas tree.

In southern France, families burn a log from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day. Traditionally, a part of the burnt log was used the next year as a wedge for the family's plow to bring good luck.

Source

Dates of Christmas Celebrations

Not only to Christmas traditions in France vary from other countries, but they also celebrate differently in each specific region of the country itself.

Some regions even celebrate other Christmas related festivals throughout the entire month of December, not just on the 25th. An example of this comes from the eastern and northern regions, where la fête de Saint Nicolas begins on December 6th and marks the beginning of the Christmas season. This celebration is generally focused on the tour of Saint Nicolas, sometimes substituted with a traditional Santa Clause, who goes from house to house distributing treats and bread to wise and courteous children. Alternatively, there is another figure, that of the Bogeyman, who accompanies Saint Nicolas and is said to hand out sticks to children who are unwise and generally poorly behaved.

The Lyon region, in the eastern central part of the country, holds a Fête des Lumières (festival of lights) from December 6th to December 9th each year. The tradition dictates that each home in the area place candles outside the windows to show their gratitude for the Virgin Mary. In addition to the townsfolk putting lights in the windows, the Basilica of Fourvière is lit up in many different colors and the Place des Terreaux hosts a different light show each year. These regionally specific traditions are truly remarkable and anyone traveling throughout the country during these dates should make it a point to stop in and experience the wonder.

Christmas trees in Paris
Christmas trees in Paris | Source

Christmas Decorations

Christmas trees are more of a German tradition (Oh, Tannenbaum), but some French families have adopted the custom. Those around the French-German border are more likely to put up Christmas trees, but there are some homes throughout the country that will also use them.

Traditionally, if a Christmas tree is present, it is decorated with candies, nuts, and small toys from Père Noel (Father Christmas) when he visits on Christmas Eve. Instead of stockings, French children will leave their shoes by the fireplace or door for Père Noel to fill with gifts. In the capital city of Paris, many shop windows will compete in glorious Christmas displays, each trying to outdo the next with its opulence and joy.

The crèche (or nativity scene) is a common sight in France during the holiday season
The crèche (or nativity scene) is a common sight in France during the holiday season | Source

The most common of Christmas decorations in France is by far the crèche (nativity scene). There are many beautiful handmade santons (little saint) figures crafted and sold every year in Marseille and Aix, where large Christmas festivals are held annually. These little figures first appeared during the French Revolution, when large nativity scenes were forbidden. The art of crafting them has been passed down through generations and is now a common family activity in the southern regions of France.

While some French homes have Christmas trees, the main focal point of Christmas decoration in France has always been the crèche. Even now, in many Cathedral squares, the story of Christ’s birth will be re-enacted in both static and live nativity scenes. The live scenes involve puppets or actual actors portraying the characters in order to tell the wonderful story of the birth of Christmas. If you are in France during the Christmas holiday, be sure to keep your eyes open for the wonderfully unique crèches on display!

The yule log cake is a deeply rooted (no pun intended) tradition in France.
The yule log cake is a deeply rooted (no pun intended) tradition in France. | Source

Christmas & Food in France

French cuisine is world renown and that does not change when it comes to Christmas meals. The French do love their food! The country is known for its rich culinary traditions which can be found in many of the foods prepared at Christmas time.

Though the food in France is so decadent throughout the country, the Christmas dinner menus vary depending on the region. In fact, all French cuisine is highly regional, so it stands to reason that the same be true when it comes to what is on the table at Christmas. For example, in the Alsace region, many families will feast upon goose for their main table course. A Parisian meal may be made up of foie gras along with oysters. In Burgundy, many families have turkey with chestnuts. Essentially, if you happen to be in France for a Christmas dinner, you are guaranteed to find a good one, no matter which region you happen to be traveling in.

The desserts and treats in France are unrivaled, especially around the holiday season. The French are known for their beautiful display windows in stores, showcasing yummy Christmas treats. Candied fruits, cookies, and cakes are widely available as well as delicious bread. My personal French Christmas favorite is salted butter caramels. Mmmm...

The highlight of any Christmas dinner is not the main course, but the consumption of the thirteen desserts afterward. These thirteen treats are said to represent Jesus and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. Tradition dictates that there should be at least thirteen different available treats, they all are served at the same time, and that each guest should try each treat. This is a tradition I could readily get behind!

Christmas tree and cupola at Galeries Lafayette in Paris
Christmas tree and cupola at Galeries Lafayette in Paris | Source

Yule Traditions

Traditionally, during Yule, families would burn a log from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. A part of this burnt log was used the next year as a wedge for the plow. This was supposed to bring good luck to the family and farm. The old Yule traditions are dying out, but France still pays homage to this ancient custom each year. The southern parts of the country still burn the log each year, but in other regions, the Yule log is represented differently.

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    • profile image

      Daniel Kolbin 8 months ago

      This really helped me on my presentation!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 9 months ago from Essex, UK

      We Brits live just a short distance across the Channel from the coast of France, and yet it does seem that some traditions in France are quite different and much more regionalised. Indeed I'm sure that we in the UK have more in common with other English speaking nations and also with Germany (probably due to the Victorian influence of Prince Albert in popularising German traditions here). Nice to see however, that some of the more ancient and localised customs are respected and maintained in France. Thanks Melanie.

    • spotlight19 profile image

      Jennifer Pena 2 years ago from California

      Great article the culture and history of France has always fascinated me.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      France christmas is unique, using shoe instead if socks

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      This was really interesting. My Dad's side was from France. His father came here in 1907. I don't recall my grandparents having any French traditions that they still held onto.

    • Ilona1 profile image

      Ilona 2 years ago from Ohio

      Christmas customs have always fascinated me. Thanks for this look at the French Noel.

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 3 years ago

      It intrigues me to learn of different customs and traditions that vary from my own. Thanks for this hub and helping me to gain insight on what you value. Up interesting and shared.

    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 3 years ago from United States

      I love the sight of the creche.. it reminds people the true meaning of Christmas. And the yule log looks so rich and really yummy. Nice with a cup of tea to go along! :)

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Informative and awesome! I am walking with my dog K2, the Great White Kuvasz, on streets these days and taking pictures of all the decorations at night. I wish to experience the same walk with K2 in few cities of France. I don't think that is going to happen, but your hub brought me close to it.

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      bob 3 years ago

      this is awesome

    • HoneyBB profile image

      Honey Halley 4 years ago from Illinois

      Wow...I think I would love to visit France at Christmastime. I love nativity scenes and I love chocolate cake! Thanks for sharing. This was very interesting t0 me as many of my ancestors are from France.

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      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      This is beautiful. I had to stop and gaze awhile on that yule log cake -- how wonderful. I don't think I could eat such a masterpiece.

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      epic 4 years ago

      this helped me so much for my around the world project thanks so much

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      helpcharter101 4 years ago

      this helped me heaps assignment due this week!!!!!!!!!!!

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      COOL PEORSON 4 years ago

      this is helpful for my homework thx

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      Egly 5 years ago

      It is perfect!

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      jada adams 5 years ago

      this is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo pretty

    • Little Light profile image

      Lilly May Rose 5 years ago from Australia

      Great article. I would love to visit France for Christmas one year. I've only been to Paris once and loved it. The food is delicious!

    • profile image

      chopsewi 5 years ago

      very informative,full of information and just as well i saw it.i needed to do a poster about christmas in france.FANTASTIC

    • profile image

      ashley 5 years ago

      your website is the best

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      anonyomus 5 years ago

      Thanks this is really helping me on a school paper for social studys thnx a lot!:)

    • profile image

      Jacob 5 years ago

      this is going to help me get a a+ on my projet

    • profile image

      Someone... 5 years ago

      Thank you soooooo much. This helped me on my France Christmas Project. Im probably gonna get an A+.

      Thanks

    • profile image

      Sally Striker 5 years ago

      Helped me on social studies project

    • profile image

      Someone nice 5 years ago

      This totally worked for my writing class project on fresh chritsmas traditions

    • profile image

      Kailtynn 5 years ago

      You see, i had a project for my language class, and it's on Christmas and stuff like that and this website helped me a bunch thank you

    • profile image

      brittany 5 years ago

      this is so so so so pretty

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      Krystal 5 years ago

      this was so helpful

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      dannydg 5 years ago

      So glad I found this site, so much information that is useful. Am planning to spent part of my retirement in France and you've given me a better understanding of how to do it.Thanks for your valuable info.

    • profile image

      naturalsolutions 6 years ago

      I have to check that celebration or festival if only I will have a time. I'm so inspired to this hub, I want France!lol

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 6 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      I'm glad this hub was of help to you for your class.

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      renae :) 6 years ago

      i hav 2 look up dis french christmas junk 4 my french class so dis rlly helped me haha :) ...kinda :) MERRY CHRISTMAS

    • profile image

      alaysha 6 years ago

      wow,i never had that!

    • cressinia profile image

      cressinia 6 years ago

      Don't forget French Christmas Carols - one of my favorites is

      Petit papa Noël

      Quand tu descendras du ciel

      Avec des jouets par milliers

      N'oublie pas mon petit soulier.

      Kids love it!

    • profile image

      thank you 6 years ago

      thanks a bunch!

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      unknown 7 years ago

      awsome information