How Christmas is celebrated in France

Christmas in France: this is how our neighbors celebrate Christmas Eve

Have you actually planned a Christmas trip to Alsace or Normandy? You wanted to visit friends or acquaintances? Even if everything is going a little differently this year due to Corona: Just bring the magic of Christmas in France home! With canapés instead of sausages, holly and French Christmas carols. In addition to a few special features, there are of course also Christmas traditions that we share with our neighbors. And in the end it's all about peaceful days anyway, right?

When is Christmas celebrated in France?

As with us, Christmas is celebrated in France on December 24th. By the way, Christmas is called “Noël” in French. If you want to wish our neighbors a Merry Christmas, say: "Joyeux Noël!"
Noël goes back to the Latin term "natalis", which means something like "belonging to the birth" and refers to the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, however, it can no longer be said in general that the French are in principle more pious. At Christmas in France, like us, everything revolves around cozy get-togethers, good food and, of course, the gift giving for children.
If Christmas Eve does not fall on a Saturday or Sunday, the French often work as usual during the day. The shops don't close at noon, as we do here, but between 6 and 8 p.m. The Christmas ceremony only begins in the evening with the “Revéillon”, the traditional Christmas menu. In France, only December 24th and 25th count as Christmas days, there is no second Christmas holiday there.
And there is another difference between Christmas in France and Germany: Even if Christmas cards with French greetings are now available, these are actually unusual. Instead, you tend to send cards with good wishes for the New Year!

Christmas tree and decorations at Christmas in France

We share some Christmas traditions with our charming neighbors - for example the Christmas tree. The "Sapin de Noël" is also in the living rooms at Christmas in France and is just as festively decorated. Under some trees there is also a “Crèche de Noel”, a wooden Christmas crib. This is often decorated with hand-painted figures and with moss and lights. In Provence, the typical nativity scene figures, the "Santons", are indispensable. The term refers to "little saints" in the French language.
What is usually missing at Christmas in France compared to our festival: A Christmas wreath and cookies such as cinnamon stars, vanilla croissants or gingerbread. Only in northern Alsace hang Christmas wreaths in some households. Instead, the French prefer to decorate their home with mistletoe or holly. The holly is considered to be a good luck charm for the new year there.

When are there gifts at Christmas in France?

One of the Christmas customs in France is giving presents on the morning of December 25th. The French are doing it like many other countries: in Italy too there are gifts a day later than here, in Spain the children even have to be patient until January 6th. However: As with all traditions, the giving of presents is not handled in the same way everywhere. At Christmas in France, some families already have gifts late on Christmas Eve.
The extent to which children, family and friends are given presents is very different, as is the case with us - there is no rule here. In some families, the gifts for Christmas are even more generous than for birthdays. Wherever emphasis is placed on the religious origin - this is most likely the case in Provence in southern France - the focus is on the Holy Festival.

What is the Christmas feast like in France?

The French are rightly regarded as gourmets - and of course they live up to their reputation, especially at Christmas! While there are sausages and potato salad on some of our plates, a French Christmas menu is usually much more elaborate and sometimes consists of seven or more courses. Fancy a few culinary suggestions from France?
For many French people a definite must at Christmas in France: champagne and canapés (soft toasts) with duck breast or smoked salmon. This is when the “Revéillon”, the Christmas Eve, begins. Popular main dishes are game, lobster, turkey or other poultry with chestnuts, or “marrons” in French. A platter of cheese specialties shouldn't be missing from a French Christmas. The classic Christmas dessert is the “Bûche de Noël”, a sumptuous cake. It consists of a sponge cake base and butter chocolate cream. Depending on the region, there is also ice cream or small, different pastries or pralines.
Christmas in France is inextricably linked with extensive feasting, which can last for several hours until midnight. Because in France, especially at Christmas, everything revolves around enjoyment in good company.

French Christmas carols

Admittedly, in order to be able to sing along with French Christmas carols, you should have at least a certain basic knowledge of the French language. But listening is also a pleasure - because the melodies are just as festive as our classics.
Speaking of German classics: “Oh Tannenbaum” is also popular in France at Christmas. “Mon beau sapin” is the title of the Christmas carol there. In addition, there are French songs like “Il est né le divin enfant”, this song may be remembered by some from French lessons. “Petit Santa Clause” is also such a French Christmas classic.
Anyone who knows and appreciates Celine Dion can also put in a Christmas medley by the famous singer. Celine Dion has also covered some famous English-language Christmas carols. But of course the French-language Christmas carols provide real French Christmas magic. Then another pastis - a spirit made from anise - and your Christmas will have a very special charm this year. And who knows, maybe this time next year you will spend a relaxing Christmas in a French ambience in one of our Sofitel hotels.

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