Europe & Britain | Inspiration

Christmas in France: A guide to French Christmas traditions

From the food to the lights and Yuletide traditions, Christmastime in France is every Francophile’s dream! While many French Christmas traditions are quite similar to festive customs and celebrations around the world, there are a few that may surprise you. From hot wine and oysters to Santa and carols, here’s an insight into how Christmas is celebrated in France.

Calendrier d’Avent

A French Christmas tradition that you may recognise is advent calendars. Similar to the advent calendars you may be familiar with, these calendars have little tear-away panels or have drawers that you can open for each day in December as you count down the days until Christmas.

Usually, each door will have a chocolate or lolly hiding behind it. Although, some companies have also adopted the advent calendar idea for adults too, and fill the boxes with items such as skincare, candles and alcohol. 

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Marché de Noel

Marché de Noel, or Christmas markets, play an important role in how the French celebrate Christmas. From the end of November, right up until Christmas Day or into the New Year, small wooden stalls pop up in the centre of villages and cities throughout the country. 

As you wander the stalls, you can buy festive treats and decorations, as well as sample artisan food and drinks.

GET INSPIRED: Christmas markets in Europe

Gifts in shoes

While in North America and the UK, Santa’s gifts are filled in stockings, in France, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts.

A famous Christmas carol called Petit Papa Noël has a line at the end that begs Santa to ‘remember his little shoe’.

Réveillon

While many countries will celebrate over large meals and gift giving on Christmas Day, the French Christmas tradition is to celebrate the day before, on Christmas Eve, or Réveillon. Gifts are exchanged and lots of French Christmas food is eaten.

Typically, the Réveillon feast will include foie gras, oysters, escargot, capon, turkey, bûche de Noël and nougat, all washed down with wine.

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Vin chaud

What could be coined the French equivalent of eggnog is vin chaud, or mulled wine. A winter staple, you can sip on vin chaud as you wander the stalls at Christmas markets, or enjoy with friends and family at home.

Seafood

While in many other parts of the world, the staple food item at the dining table for Christmas is a big roast turkey, in France, seafood is a non-negotiable. Everything from smoked salmon, fresh oysters, coquilles st jacques and even lobster is on the French Christmas food menu.

Bûche de Noël

One thing that is not to be missed in France is the traditional French Christmas cake, the Bûche de Noël. 

This dessert item is usually a chocolate sponge cake in the shape of a log and comes covered in cream. In Paris, the pastry chefs tend to get creative with their bûche de Noel’s and will create a new iteration every year.

RELATED CONTENT: Christmas desserts from around the world

Crèche

One thing you will find in every French home during Christmas is a crèche, or nativity scene. Although, these aren’t your average nativity scenes. This French Christmas tradition sees entire villages included in the crèche, in addition to the traditional manger scene.

Walking past a Nativity scene prior to Christmas, you may also notice that baby Jesus is not to be seen. This is because Jesus isn’t placed in the Crèche until midnight, right in time for midnight mass.


Did you enjoy this French Christmas traditions list? Have you been dreaming of spending Christmas in France? Let us know in the comments! Or, head to our website for inspiration on how you can travel to France with Trafalgar.

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