In France, a Nativity crib is frequently used to decorate the home. Clay figures can be found in French cribs. Some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, hold Nativity figure fairs in December. In addition to the traditional Nativity figures, French scenes include a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman, and a Priest.

‘Joyeux Noel’ means ‘Merry Christmas’ in French. It’s ‘Nedeleg Laouen’ in Breton (spoken by some residents in Brittany, Northern France), ‘Bon Natale’ in Corsican, and ‘E güeti Wnâchte’ in Alsatian (spoken by some people in Alsace, Eastern France). Christmas is a religious as well as a familial holiday in France, and there are numerous French Christmas traditions. So, let’s go over Christmas in France in greater depth.

Let’s look at some French Christmas traditions. If you have any further questions about Christmas in France, please leave them in the comments section, and we shall do our best to answer them.

Introduction

In North Eastern France, Strasbourg hosts one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets. It’s known as the “Christkindelsmarik” in Alsatian.

Yule Logs made of Cherry Wood are popular in French homes. An old custom was to bring the log into the house on Christmas Eve and sprinkle it with red wine to make it smell nice when it burned. It is customary to leave the log and candles burning all night, along with some food and drinks, in case Mary and the baby Jesus pass by during the night.

Père Noel is the French name for Father Christmas/Santa Claus/St. Nicholas (Father Christmas). In the eastern side of France, he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a black-clad man. He could be the same person in the Netherlands as Zwarte Piet/Sooty Piet/Roetpiet.

The main Christmas meal, known as ‘Réveillon,’ is eaten after people return from the midnight Church Service on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning. Roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, foie gras, oysters, lobster, venison, and cheeses are all possibilities. A chocolate sponge cake log, a bûche de Noel, is traditionally served as dessert.

What Is Christmas In France Like?

Christmas in France is made extra special by the numerous Christmas illuminations and traditions found across the country.

France’s cities and towns transform into magical places, with all the Christmas lights beginning in late November.

It’s time to “ahh” and “ooh” at the Christmas light displays and the festive marketplaces in Paris and Alsace.

People visit from all over to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. They do not miss the dazzling Christmas lights along the prestigious Avenue des Champs-Elysées. The animated window displays of department stores, like Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, are among the most festive attractions we can not wait to see in Paris.

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Celebrations And Traditions

Are you prepared for the most wonderful time of year in France? Christmas is magical when Paris and France’s best attractions transform into the most festive winter wonderlands. Christmas lights and trees can be found in every city and town across the country during the holiday season. Enchanting Christmas markets also take centre stage in historic districts. This article aims to explain why Christmas in France is the most joyous time of year leading up to New Year’s Eve. This page contains a wealth of information about how the French celebrate Christmas!

An Ever-Changing Celebration

It’s tempting to think that the Christmas customs and traditions we follow in Western countries are ancient.

This, however, is not the case. The majority of them date from the nineteenth century or earlier. This is true of Santa Claus, Christmas gifts, Advent calendars, glass baubles, tinsels, and fairy lights on the tree.

A Germanic Influence

Furthermore, many Christmas traditions in France and Europe can be traced back to the German states that used to be a part of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Alsace, etc.).

For example, the tradition of cutting down a fir tree in the forest to decorate the interior of houses reaches us from the Alsace region in the 16th century.

Surprisingly, this is true for the oldest Christmas markets, which can be found in Dresden, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, and Vienna.

An American Influence

The United States played a significant role in the evolution of Christmas traditions in Western societies beginning in the nineteenth century. As a result, the character of Santa Claus (which was derived from St. Nicholas) began to establish himself in postwar Europe.

Christmas gifts are also linked to the Christmas shopping frenzy because it was in the United States that Christmas gradually but steadily became a child-centred holiday.

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Ancient Traditions Still Survived.

On the other hand, the French maintain several ancient traditions, some of which are as old as pre-Christian times, particularly Roman and Celtic times. People, for example, continue to decorate their homes with holly and celebrate Christmas on December 25th (the date replaces the Roman celebrations of Saturnalia, which happens on the winter solstice).

Above all, we have witnessed the Christmas desecration, whose central character, Jesus Christ, appears to be fading away in front of Father Christmas since the second half of the twentieth century. Hence, the fascinating history of Christmas traditions and customs in France and throughout the Western world continues to evolve.

Is There A Strong French Christmas Spirit?

Although the French do not always decorate their homes with une guirlande électrique (string lights), most towns and villages do have some Christmas lights. It is also customary to place a large Christmas tree followed by the city hall or on the city’s main square.

Stores in France usually have some sort of Christmas decoration, even if it is subtle. Generally, stores do not play Christmas songs a lot, at least not to the extent that I experienced in the United States. But I’ll go into more detail about this later.

Strolling through the big department stores in France’s big cities, such as “les grands magasins” in the metropolis of Paris at Christmas time, is a real treat: the Christmas tree present at “les Galeries Lafayette” is spectacular, different every year, and well worth a detour!

Why Is Christmas Important In France?

Christmas is a national holiday, and it is celebrated differently depending on whether you are in Paris, Normandy, or Provence.

  • Alsatian residents deck their halls with elaborate Christmas decorations.
  • On Christmas Eve, it is customary in Provence to serve 13 desserts.
  • You can try a delicious cheese-based dish like fondue or raclette in the Savoie Alps.

To begin with, Christmas is a religious holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.

Then came a slew of new traditions, such as Advent wreaths and calendars, a lavish dinner on Christmas Eve, presents and gifts, and Christmas trees! There are many beautiful Christmas trees in France, but the ones in Strasbourg and Nancy are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The twinkling Christmas trees, adorned with glowing lights, are highlights that stand out during the holiday season.

I may be a little biased, but nothing beats Christmas in Alsace. Alsace is the place to be if you enjoy Christmas and all that it entails. There are Christmas decorations in several cities and villages and countless Christmas markets that draw large crowds every day.

The Characters Of Christmas

Finally, our forefathers’ imaginations produced a number of characters. When you include the regional characters, the list grows quite long: Saint-Nicolas, Christkindle, Père Fouettard, Hans Trapp, Tante Airie, and Père Chalande. Santa Claus, also known as Père Noel in France, has recently been added to the list.

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How Do You Say “Christmas In France”?

  • CHRISTMAS is NOËL in French. It is pronounced as no-well.
  • CHRISTMAS IN FRANCE in French is NOËL EN FRANCE.

Because Noel is a proper noun in French, it is capitalised in both the singular and plural forms.

Because of the ellipsis of “fête de”, the masculine phrase (je vous souhaite un beau Noel – I wish you a Merry Christmas) changes to the feminine version when used in combination with a definite singular article (je vous verrai à la Noel – I will see you at Christmas).

However, the term used for Nativity songs is masculine with a lowercase (nous avons chanté des nols – we sang Christmas carols).

Nol is also a common surname (actress Annie Nol, Vosges MP Jean-Baptiste Nol, comedian Matthieu Nol, and so on), as well as a male (Nol) and female (Nolle) first name, all of which is celebrated on December 25th. This is a popular name for children born on Christmas Day.

15 Fun Facts About Christmas In France

Noël And The Nativity Scenes

  • The word Noel was first mentioned in France in the early 12th century.
  • According to legend, Saint Francis of Assisi built the first Christmas crib before midnight mass in 1223. The Christmas scenes were performed by actors (They were villagers from Grecchio, Italy), and the event included live animals. As a result, the first cribs were Nativity plays.
  • The oldest mention of a crib set in a church in Alsace (1420) is kept in Haguenau.

Christmas Trees

  • The first record of a Christmas tree cut down to be raised inside houses can be found in Sélestat’s municipal archives. It happened on Christmas Day, 1521.
  • The Strasbourg Christmas tree on Place Kléber is the tallest in France and one of the tallest in Europe.

Christmas Markets

  • The French term for a Christmas market is Marché de Noel. This name is replaced in some cities by Village de Noel. This is the case with Colmar’s Christmas market, which consists of five Christmas villages.
  • Strasbourg has the country’s oldest Christmas market. Since 1570, the capital of Alsace, which was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, has held its Christkindelsmärik.
  • Only a few French cities, Metz, Arras, Calais, and Nice, have a massive Christmas pyramid in their Christmas markets.

Towards The Night Of Christmas

  • For many French families, Christmas Eve is a two-part event: a hectic day of preparation followed by a festive evening centred on Christmas Eve dinner: le Réveillon de Noel.
  • Before Father Christmas, Little Jesus (le Petit-Jésus) distributed gifts in Paris and France (except in Alsace-Lorraine and Flanders).
  • There are several gift-givers in Alsace, including Father Christmas, Saint Nicolas, and Christkindel.
  • Christmas has evolved into a time to exchange gifts with your loved ones. According to the French National Statistics Institute (INSEE), people spend 2.5% of their annual income on Christmas gifts. This amounts to two-thirds of their current budget.

 Christmas Carols

  • Germany’s oldest Christmas carol dates back to the 9th century. It was written by the monk Otfried of Wissembourg (now in France), who is regarded as the first German-language poet.
  • The oldest surviving hymn in France dates from the early 16th century: “Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris.”
  • Tino Rossi’s 1946 hit “Petit Papa Noel” was a popular hit in France at the time, and the song still holds the French record for single sales.

Are There Christmas Markets In France?

France has a long history of Christmas markets. Christmas markets, with their small wooden chalet-style stands selling a variety of goods and delicacies, are a fun place to go Christmas shopping.

There’s a big one on the Champs Elysées in Paris, and it really adds to the festive atmosphere.

The Christmas markets in the East of France are especially well-known, but even small towns, such as my hometown in Brittany, will frequently host a small Christmas market.

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When Do The French Say Merry Christmas?

When I lived in the United States, I was surprised to hear people starting to wish each other “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” the day after Thanksgiving.

That is not the case in France. People do not usually say “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas) weeks before the holiday. Of course, everyone is unique. However, this is not the norm. You’ll hear it during Christmas, but it’s not automatic. It’s mostly heard on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Why is this so? Perhaps because France is such a secular country. After all, Christmas is a religious holiday. Even saying “Joyeuses fêtes de fin d’année” – “Happy Holidays” in French – is not as common as I found it to be in the United States.

Having said that, wishing someone “Happy Holidays” before Christmas wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s just that the French appear to be more circumspect about it.

When Do The French Celebrate Christmas?

The date of the French Christmas celebration is somewhat flexible.

In France, the Christmas meal is known as “Le Réveillon de Noel,” and it is traditionally served late at night on December 24th. This is also when the people return from midnight mass.

However, times have changed, and many French families now have their traditional Christmas meal on December 25th or in the daytime on December 24th.

More on the true date of Christmas in France can be found in my article: I’ll look into when the French has their Christmas family reunions and when the traditional French Christmas mass is held.

Is It Still A French Christmas Tradition To Send Christmas Greeting Cards?

French people do send out Christmas greeting cards and new year’s wishes, but it’s a dying tradition.

Sending out an end-of-year recap is popular right now, especially on social networks like Facebook.

What Are “Les Etrennes”?

“Les Etrennes” is a French tradition of giving money or a nice and somewhat valuable gift to people who provide services for you. These people include the mailman, firemen, garbage collectors, and your cleaning lady etc.

It is not required, but it is a strong tradition in France. Collective service providers sometimes go door to door around Christmas or New Year’s and sell a calendar for a fixed price. You can always choose to give more or just hand in the cash and not take the calendar). They may also refuse to sell anything and simply state, “nous venons pour les étrennes.” It is then customary to present them with a bill, the amount of which is entirely up to you.

Some service providers never request payment. It’s the garbage collectors’ case. So I usually wait for them to pass by, then get out and prepare three 10 Euro bills, one for each person in the truck. To be honest, I’m not sure how “legal” this is all, but hey… Their work is difficult, and they appreciate the gesture and thought.

You’d pay a little more for a household employee like a cleaning lady or a gardener. It is customary to receive half to a full month’s salary in cash. Traditionally, “les étrennes” were only given after the New Year. However, this is no longer the case. We now offer “les étrennes” from November to the end of January.

What Is “L’Avent”?

“L’Avent” (pronounced exactly like “avant”, meaning before) is a religious tradition that states that Christians begin mentally preparing for Christ’s arrival four Sundays before his arrival.

This season is represented by a large wreath with a candle, a special calendar called le calendrier de l’Avent and, which has a little nook for each day that hides a small treat: an image, toy, or candy. You should open one slot per day to help kids countdown to Christmas and teach patience.

The exact start date of Advent changes each year because it begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25th. In theory, at least. In practice, most French Advent calendars begin on December 1st (and end on the 25th).

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What Is “La Crèche”?

“La crèche” is an important Christmas tradition in France. It is a traditional element of French Catholic Christmas and is part of the French Christmas decorations.

“Une crèche” – a Christmas manger in English – represents the night of Jesus’ birth. The important characters of “la crèche” are Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, a donkey and an ox, and occasionally the three kings.

A Christmas manger in France would typically include many small figurines, also known as “un santon,” representing townspeople gathered around the stable to witness the birth of baby Jesus. This type of Christmas manger is especially popular in Provence, and it is common in France for a Christmas manger to be passed down through generations.

When Do They Put Up Their Christmas Trees In France?

If you want to follow Catholic tradition, you should not put up a sapin de Noel (Christmas tree) before Christmas Eve, which is December 24th. It should be removed twelve nights later for the Epiphanie (the visit of the Kings). There is no set date in reality. You can configure it to your liking.

What Are The French Christmas Present Traditions?

Like many other countries, the French exchange gifts for Christmas – Faire des cadeaux.

In France, stockings are not traditionally hung on the fireplace during Christmas. So, where does Santa store his gifts? In France, Santa places Christmas gifts in shoes that we place by the fireplace, as Tino Rossi’s song Petit Papa Noel depicts.

However, it is not a well-regarded tradition. Nowadays, numerous Christmas gifts are usually placed under or next to the Christmas tree. And if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you might even see a few stockings hanging from the mantel.

As I previously stated, many towns will host un marché de Noel – A Christmas market in France: small wooden chalet-style stands selling local arts and crafts, special Christmas foods such as pain d’épice (gingerbread), handmade clothing, regional delicacies, and Noel decorations.

Even if they are pricey, it is a lot of fun to wander around the market and look at everything, and Christmas markets are very famous among French people.

So, what about sending your friends a French gift for Christmas? With Amazon.fr and other websites delivering worldwide, it’s easy to find a French / France-related gift for your Francophile friends. A French Christmas tree ornament or some magnetic French poetry words is a good idea.

Are There French Christmas Carols?

Despite the fact that we have many Christmas songs, carolling in the streets is not a French tradition.

Actually, we don’t have a term for it except chanter des chants de Noel. Carolling is occasionally practised in some cities – nothing forbids it, but it is not a typical French tradition.

It is unusual for French pop stars to make a Christmas album in France. Many French Canadian singers have a Christmas album; Christmas songs in French are available but not particularly popular.

Who Is The French Santa Claus?

In Northern-Eastern France, Santa – Le Père Noel – is frequently replaced by Saint Nicholas, and Saint Nicholas replaces the gifts given to children on December 6th.

What’s The Traditional French Christmas Food?

With so many culinary delights in France, it’s difficult to determine what kind of food the French actually eat around Christmas.

You should not believe everything you read! If oysters and foie gras are safe bets, fresh truffles and caviar are still reserved for the wealthy. And have you ever heard of the thirteen Christmas desserts in France?

There’s so much to say about this that I wrote an entire article debunking the myths and realities of the traditional French Christmas meal.

That brings the long list of French Christmas traditions to a close, but the season’s festivities are far from over.

FAQ for Christmas in France

Why Are 13 Desserts Served At Christmas In France?

The thirteen desserts are a reference to the Last Supper between Jesus and his twelve apostles. According to tradition, there must be at least thirteen sweets available. They are all served at the same time, and each guest is required to have at least one small bite of each dessert.

What Do The French Leave Out For Santa?

Children in France leave carrots and cookies in their shoes. The French ensure that Santa Claus is not hungry by leaving him treats such as biscuits, as well as carrots for the reindeer. They usually leave the treats in their shoes and wake up to find the food is gone and gifts in their place.

What Is Christmas Dinner In France Called?

The real party begins on Christmas Eve in France with a celebration known as Le Réveillon de Nol. This traditional celebration includes eating a lot of food, staying up late, and enjoying the joyous company that has gathered for this one night of the year.

Do The French Hang Stockings At Christmas?

The French, like many other countries, exchange gifts for Christmas – Faire des cadeaux. In France, stockings are not traditionally hung on the fireplace during the Christmas season. However, it is not a well-regarded tradition.

What Is The Most Popular Christmas Food In France?

A large roasted “dinde” is the traditional French Christmas main course, much like turkey is at Thanksgiving. A traditional French Christmas turkey is stuffed with chestnuts and served with roasted potatoes, chestnuts, and sometimes cooked apples.

The most popular and traditional Christmas dish is capon or turkey with chestnut stuffing. Capon or turkey is generally roasted in the oven with a generous helping of chestnut stuffing.