French Christmas Traditions: How We’ll Be Spending Christmas in France

 

joyeux-noel-sign-at-christmas

I’m so excited for our French Christmas this year because, for the first time, we won’t spend the festive period travelling both ends of the UK.

2018 will be the first year, we get to celebrate Christmas together in our own home.

But as an English couple living in France, will we be following English traditions, French traditions or creating new ones of our own?

french-christmas-is-called-noel

What do the French do at Christmas

We all know the English, but what do we know about the French Christmas Traditions?

<<Related Post: French Themed Christmas Gifts For Your Loved Ones>>

I assumed, being just across the water, that a French Christmas would be just the same, but I was wrong.

Here in France they do things very, very differently. Don’t expect a warming roast or a relaxing boxing day holiday because neither exists here…

French Christmas Traditions That Don’t Exist in the UK

French Christmas Dinner: Le Reveillon

salmon-for-christmas-dinner-le-reveillon

The French Christmas dinner is actually not a dinner at all – in fact, traditionally it’s eaten in the early hours of Christmas morning.

Le Reveillon is traditionally eaten by French families after midnight mass, however, it is now more commonly eaten very late at night Christmas eve instead.

Le Reveillon includes traditional French Christmas foods such as oysters, foie gras, turkey and chestnuts, duck, caviar, escargots, smoked salmon, scallops, lobster, Bûche de Noël and of course plenty of wine and champagne.

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Father Christmas/Santa/St Nicholas:

santa-on-the-christmas-tree

(Mainly significant for Eastern France)

In England we like to think of these 3 as the same person, however, in France only Père Noël and Santa clause are the same. St Nicholas is celebrated on the 6th of December and he is the protector of children.

On the night of December 5th children leave their shoes in front of the fireplace and sing traditional French songs before heading to bed and while they’re asleep st Nicholas gifts the well-behaved kids with sweets and other presents. However, if a child has been bad? Well, that’s where père Fouettard (Father whipper) comes in.

Père Fouettard accompanies Saint Nicolas to the houses of French children and punishes all the bad kids with lumps of coal and/or a flogging

<<Related Post: French Themed Christmas Gifts For Children>>

The Nativity: Creche de Noel

french-nativity-scene

Like the UK, nativity scenes are very popular across France however, the figurines in a French Christmas nativity are slightly different.

In the UK only those featured in the bible are a part of the nativity, whereas the Creche de noel also features local village people such as:

  • le Boulanger – the baker
  • le Fermier – the farmer
  • le chasseur – the hunter
  • la lavandière – the washing woman
  • and one delighted villager known as le Ravi.

The Creche de Noel is kept up until the 2nd of February where the candlelight festival (La Chandeleur) takes place. On this day, the French celebrate by lighting candles and eating pancakes to celebrate that “Jesus is light”.

The Christmas Stocking

shoes-in-front-of-fireplace-at-christmas-french-tradition

In French Christmas Tradition, children do not have stockings and instead leave their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas eve (like they also do on the 5th for st nick). le Père Noël then fills these and surrounds le Sapin de Noël with Christmas gifts.

<<Related Post: French Themed Christmas Gifts For Your Kids>>

Christmas Cards

french-christmas-card-on-dinner-table

The French don’t tend to do Christmas cards in the way us British people do. In fact, it is far more popular to send a new year card to loved ones instead. If you’re looking for a Joyeux Noël card, you’re far more likely to find a Bonnes Fêtes (happy holidays) or Bonne Année (happy new year). However, don’t wish anyone a Bonne Année before midnight on New year as it’s seen as bad luck!

Postcards from Santa

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There’s actually a law that states during Christmas in France, all letters sent to Santa must receive a reply.

Not even kidding – an actual law!

These letters don’t just end up in bins, the postmen collect these letters and then “Santa” sends back his reply on a postcard.

Quality presents not quantity

christmas-gifts-wrapped-in-brown-paper

Children across France at Christmas are not as spoiled as their British neighbours.

In the UK it’s very common to see children, who probably won’t even remember, receive hundreds and hundreds of junk, plastic gifts.

In France, parents are a lot more modest when it comes to gift giving. Many French Christmas gifts traditionally come from the local Christmas markets and are all about quality over quantity.

<<Related Post: French Inspired Christmas Gifts For Your Loved Ones>>

Boxing Day & The Sales

feet-in-front-of-fireplace-relaxing-on-boxing-dayfeet-in-front-of-fireplace-relaxing-on-boxing-day

There is no Boxing Day in France. Traditionally in France, the day after Christmas is just any other day at work. While some independent workplaces may take the day as a holiday – normal service will be resumed when it comes to transportation and shopping chains.

Also, no boxing day means no boxing day sales! The sales in France are at set times throughout the year and the equivalent of the January sales doesn’t start until midway through the month.

French Words and  Phrases You May Hear In France Over Christmas:

joyeux-noel-and-some-flower-pots-french-christmas

Here are some French Christmas phrases and words you can use this Noël

  • Joyeux Noël/Joyeux Nono

Merry Christmas/The slang way of saying it

  • Le Père Fouettard

Father Whipper – the evil Christmas tradition

  • Le Père Noel

Father Christmas/Santa

  • Bonne fêtes/Joyeuses Fêtes

Happy holidays

  • le marché de Noël

french-christmas-market

Christmas markets

  • Le jour de Noël

Christmas Day

  • la veille de Noël

Christmas eve

  • Le Sapin de Noël

le-sapin-de-noel

Christmas Tree

  • un Renne

A reindeer

  • un chant de Noël

Christmas carol

  • la crèche

The Nativity

  • Le Réveillon

french-christmas-dinner-table-le-reveillon

Christmas meal

  • une bûche de Noël

Yule Log

  • la Neige

Snow

  • un Bonhomme de Neige

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Snowman

  • l’hiver

Winter

  • Santé

Cheers

  • Bonne année et bonne santé

Happy New Year and Good Health

  • qu’est-ce que tu veux pour Noël?

What do you want for Christmas?

  • S’embrasser sous le gui

mistletoe-at-christmas-time-in-france

Kiss under the mistletoe

  • Une étoile

A Star

  • La Messe de minuit

Midnight mass

  • L’avent

Advent

Will I follow French Christmas Traditions or English?

french-christmas-traditions-vs-english-christmas-traditions-popcorn-and-a-hot-chocolate-at-the-fireplace

This year, I want to create our own traditions, taking inspiration from both the French way of Christmas as well as the English. Basically, we’re going to eat all the French foods on Christmas eve and the English foods on Christmas day and by the end of the festive season, we’ll have bellies like Mr & Mrs Clause!

<<Related Post: French Themed Christmas Gifts For Your Loved Ones>>

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