Holiday Traditions Around the World: Christmas in France

Christmas in France is both a religious and secular holiday as it is in most modern countries.  In French, Christmas = Noël and is a reference to the Gospel.  It comes from the French phrase “les bonnes nouvelles” which means “the good news”.  L’Avent en France (Advent) commences the fourth Sunday before Christmas.    Although the Christmas tree is not so popular, homes all throughout France display the Nativity scene “la crèche”.  The creche is often coupled with figures called little saints or “santons” which represent the Holy Family, shepherds, Magi as well as local dignitaries and people in the community.   The craftsmanship and molds utilized to create the santons have been passed down from generation to generation since the seventeenth century.   Puppet shows leading up to Christmas are well attended particularly in Paris and Lyon.  One of the most famous Christmas puppet plays is Bethlemen 1933 and is considered a masterpiece.

On Christmas Eve, families attend midnight mass as churches become alive with carols, bells and magnificent lights.  When the family returns home, they celebrate the traditional meal called Le Réveillon.  The traditional fare varies among region.  Goose is the main course in Alsace, turkey with chestnuts is served in Burgundy and oysters with foie gras is common in Paris.  Yule logs used to be burned in French homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day and part of the log was used to make a wedge for the plow as good luck for the coming harvest.  Today the tradition is carried on by making “buche de Nol” which is a Yule log shaped cake.

Children in France look forward to the arrival of Père Noël or Father Christmas accompanied by his donkey, Gui.   Gui is French for mistletoe.  They leave their shoes by the fireplace filled with carrots and hay for Gui and a glass of wine for Père Noël.     In the morning, they find sweets and small toys in the shoes.  Christmas Day tends to be a quiet day at home with the family.  Instead of on Christmas, adults generally wait to exchange gifts until New Year’s Day.

Joyeux Noël !

Have you experienced a holiday in a foreign country? Let us know in the comments!

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