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how the french celebrate christmas

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

6 french traditions that may surprise you

advent calendars

these calendars have a little tear-away panel or drawer that you open for each day in december as you count down to christmas. while some advent calendars feature a religious message for each day, the most popular kind in france feature that aged old favourite, chocolate. around the end of vovember, french grocery stores will start putting out a display of advent calendars, from high-end, to inexpensive ones that are often decorated with kids’ favorite pop culture characters.

christmas lights

although most french people don’t go overboard when it comes to decorating their home (inside or out), tastefully pretty lights and window displays in towns and shops are de rigueur in most of the country.

paris is especially famous for the christmas light display along the champs-elysées , as well as the holiday window displays in its grands magasins (department stores), which feature different themes each year and incorporate puppets, animatronics, video art, designer clothes and jewelry, toys, and much more in innovative and whimsical ways. going to see les vitrines (the shop windows) is an annual tradition for many families in paris.

even the smallest village will often have pretty christmas light decorations along lampposts, and garlands covering shopfronts and the doors of churches.

here in our town of aigre, all the shop windows are painted in christmas themes by a local artist, and xmas trees are gifted by the commune to each house for decoration outside.

christmas markets

the largest christmas market in the world is in france – in the city of strasbourg, strasbourg is on the border with germany, which is a pretty christmas-mad country.

christmas markets have become popular throughout france, so if you’re staying in a French town or city, you’ll probably be able to stroll among the iconic chalets and sample local crafts and food.

midnight mass

this christmas tradition is a part of christmas for some french people. if you can make it to a midnight mass in france, then it is certainly uplifting. it is beautiful, and the music — a mix of hymns and (the rare) popular carols is heartening.

le pere noel and le pere fouettard

yes there is a santa in france! for the most part, he’s portrayed exactly the way as is in most of the world, but there are a few exceptions.

in some parts of france, le père noël – or rather his saintly incarnation, saint nicholas, visits france twice in december. in addition to christmas, in some parts of france, la saint-nicolas, the feast day of saint nicholas, is celebrated as a separate holiday. on december 6, this holiday is more focused on the traditional representation of st. nicholas, rather than the red-and-white wearing santa most of us are familiar with. saint nicolas often distributes little gifts and sweets, and is sometimes accompanied by le père fouettard (father whipper), a hooded, frightening figure who, at worst, whips or kidnaps bad children, and at best gives them things like onions or coal! so santa in france has a scary sidekick! that said, le père fouettard isn’t known and feared by most kids in france. still, you may wish to include the concept if you have naughty children!

food, food and more food

you could say that in france, food is what makes christmas, christmas.

most christmas adverts you'll see here are glittery catalogues for different foods, champagne, oysters, chocolates, scallops, salmon and foie gras.

the go-to christmas gift is always a box of chocolates.

a typical french christmas meal, normally eaten on christmas eve, involves multiple appetizers, followed by some type of meat, followed by cheese, then a dessert. this will take place over several hours, often well after midnight. christmas day is not normally a day for celebration for the french. or, it involves a sea-food extravaganza!

however you celebrate christmas, enjoy!


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