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?
What do the French do at Christmas
We all know the English, but what do we know about the French Christmas Traditions?
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
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.
Father Christmas/Santa/St Nicholas:
(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
The Nativity: Creche de Noel
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
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.
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
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
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.
Boxing Day & The Sales
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:
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
- Bonne fêtes/Joyeuses Fêtes
- le marché de Noël
- Le jour de Noël
- la veille de Noël
- Le Sapin de Noël
- un Renne
- un chant de Noël
- la crèche
- Le Réveillon
- une bûche de Noël
- la Neige
- un Bonhomme de Neige
- 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
Kiss under the mistletoe
- Une étoile
- La Messe de minuit
Will I follow French Christmas Traditions or English?
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!