All around the world, people celebrate Christmas, with each country having their own special traditions. There are many similarities between how France and the UK celebrate Christmas, but there are some significant differences discussed in this blog post.
Celebrating Christmas in France
The giving of Christmas cards
Christmas cards are traditionally common to send in the UK, but in France, there are fewer sent. The French send cards to celebrate the New Year rather than Christmas, expressing warm wishes such as Bonnes Fêtes (happy holidays) or Bonne Année (happy new year).
Whilst we love a Christmas song here in the UK, over in France, Christmas songs aren't such a significant part of their celebrations. A few classics may play on the radio, but the grand choral gatherings that dominate British celebrations are certainly not as common in France.
It is very important for French people to have their Christmas dining table looking extremely elegant and inviting. It is common practice to put three candlesticks on the table representing the Trinity. The French also traditionally knot the ends of the tablecloth so the Devil can’t get under the table!
Mistletoe is popular in French Christmas traditions and used as a decorative item, as it is in the UK, but it has a different purpose. In France, people hang mistletoe above the door during Christmas to bring good luck during the coming year, not to instigate a kiss!
Christmas crackers were invented by Tom Smith in the 19th century as an inspiration from his visit to Paris when he apparently saw the French ‘bon bon’ sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper), and upon his return to London started selling them with a small motto message inside. Then, his sons added paper crowns and small gifts, and their popularity grew. Sadly, crackers have never become part of French Christmas traditions it is very much a UK tradition.
Christmas Eve festivities
As you know, our main family gathering takes place on Christmas day here in the UK, where we enjoy a big family dinner together, and an afternoon of fun and games. In contrast, the French prefer to make Christmas Eve the focal point of their celebrations. 'La Reveillon,' from the verb réveiller, to wake up or revive, is a lavish late-night feast which extends into the early hours of the morning. The menu contains delicacies such as oysters, foie gras, turkey with chestnuts, duck, caviar, escargots, smoked salmon, scallops, and lobster, the foods chosen are mainly dependent on the region, all accompanied by the finest wines and champagne. To finish the feast, you will get the amazing looking and tasting La bûche de Noël (yule log), a sponge cake decorated like a yule log, traditionally made of chocolate and chestnuts.
The exchange of gifts in France typically occurs during 'la Reveillon' on Christmas Eve, rather than on Christmas Day (le jour de Noël), although kids do often get their presents from le Pere Noël (Santa Claus) on Christmas morning.
Christmas presents from Père Noël (Santa Claus)
Père Noël brings French children their Christmas presents during the night and kids typically open their presents from him on Christmas Day morning the same as in the UK. One significant difference is children leave out their shoes by the fireplace not stockings as we are so familiar with in the UK.
Christmas pudding is a big part of the UK Christmas dinner and is also traditionally served in Northern France, showing how the wars in times gone by have influenced customs.
The first candy cane dates back to the 17th century when the Benedictine nuns of the priory of Moret-sur-Loing (Ile-de-France) created a sweet made from a barley decoction. Although it’s never been proven, the story goes that, at the same time, the bishop of Koln Cathedral wanted the children to remain silent during Christmas mass so he asked a candy maker to make them sweets that looked like shepherds’ sticks, to remind the children of the adoration of the Magi and shepherds and to hush them for the service!
Les Treize desserts, the 13 desserts
This is a Provençal French Christmas tradition, the 13 desserts are in reference to Jesus and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. Tradition goes, there must be 13 sweet desserts available after the main course at Christmas, and they must all be served at once, and each guest must have at least a bite of each!
French alcohol at Christmas
Mulled wine is popular in bars and in French Christmas markets, although you won’t see it so much at French houses. During Christmas dinner, a very good wine is required and of course Champagne is imperative!
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Christmas in France, and whilst you are here do visit our Christmas shop full of French gifts and toys.
All that is left to say is, Bonnes Fêtes!