Christmas In France
Christmas in France is a time for family and generosity, and it is not just a one day celebration. In fact different regions in France celebrate Christmas, known as Noël, on different days in December and even January. There are many traditions, from giving out candy and gifts to children and the poor to midnight Mass and family feasts, which date back centuries making this holiday many people’s favorite.
The festivities begin on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. In eastern regions of France, particularly Alsace, presents are given on this day and Christmas Day, December 25th, is reserved for religious services and family dinner. For those regions that do wait until December 25th, Santa or Père Noël comes and leaves small treats and toys in the children’s shoes that are left under the fireplace. Adults have been known to wait until New Year’s Eve to exchange gifts. In Alsace you will also find the most beautiful Christmas markets in France !
Those who attend la Messe de Minuit, midnight mass, on Christmas Eve enjoy a huge family feast after the service known as le Réveillon. Although the Christmas season is filled with appetizing meals and delectable desserts, this day is the culinary high point of the season. The dishes vary from region to region. Examples include buckwheat pancakes with sour cream in Brittany, turkey and chestnuts in Burgundy, and goose in Alsace. Here are some holiday recipes of courses that may be served, like Provencal Cauliflower, Christmas Meat Pie and the traditional Buche de Noël. Try them out at your dinner; your guests won’t be disappointed !
On Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th or the 1st Sunday of January, a Galette des rois (King’s cake) is made and eaten by family and friends. Inside the cake is a la fève : literally fève means bean, but nowadays beans are replaced by small figurines representing Santa, a reindeer and other Christmas symbols. Whoever is lucky enough to find the fève is dubbed king or queen with a partner of their choice. Traditionally the youngest person of the family has to decide who gets each slice of the cake with his eyes closed, so that it is impossible to cheat and try to get the fève for oneself ! The cake is meant to symbolize the food that was given to the three kings as they passed by on their way to see baby Jesus.
Another popular Christmas tradition in Provence is called the Treize Desserts. 13 different desserts are served each day from Christmas Eve until December 27th. The items can change by local of family tradition, but you usually find dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruits and sweets. In Provence you will also find the Santons : small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines.
There are many Christmas traditions celebrated by the French as well as others around the world. Some may be different while others the same, but universally this season is a time for giving and being with the ones you love. Hope you enjoy your time together.