The Christmas season is a special time I look forward to throughout the year. I enjoy learning about traditions and beliefs from other countries. Every country has unique Christmas customs and beliefs. Let’s take a look at how the French celebrate Christmas.
In France, Christmas is known as Noel, which comes from the French expression “les bonnes nouvelles” which means “the good news” and denotes The Gospel. One very important part of Christmas for many French families is attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is followed by a huge feast, called le Reveillon (which comes from the verb reveiller – to wake up), which is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth. Many families go so far as to leave a candle burning in a window in case the Virgin Mary passes by.
Christmas is primarily seen as a children’s holiday, and they open small gifts on Christmas Eve. The remaining main gifts and cards are exchanged on new Year’s Day. Adults can open their gifts on Christmas Day. Children place their shoes in front of the fireplace in the hope that Pere Noel will fill them with gifts. Just like children around the world, French children like to send gift requests to Santa. And they are sure to get a postcard in reply! You see, a law was passed in 1962 that all letters written to Santa would receive a postcard in reply.
French cooking has a prominant place at Christmastime. There are many traditional dishes to be found in many of the houses. Each region has its own traditional menu, with dishes such as goose, chicken, capon, and boudin blanc (which is similar to a white pudding). It is thought to be good luck to eat oysters, but the main course is almost always turkey stuffed with chestnuts.
Another tradition is that meat should not be eaten on Christmas Eve. And it is said to be good luck to have 13 desserts during the Christmas Eve festivities. Yummy! This number represents the 12 apostles and Jesus at the Last Supper. The traditional dessert dishes may include raisins, dates, oranges, dried figs, nuts, and the Buche de Noel (Yule log). The Buche de Noel is usually made from chocolate, rolled with a butter cream or whipped cream filling, then covered in a chocolate icing. Can you say delicious!?!
Some regions of France serve a Three Kings Cake. This is supposed to be in honour of the three kings who play such a significant role in the Christmas story. This cake has a bean hidden inside it. Whoever is the lucky one to find the bean in their slice of cake is made King or Queen for a day.
The Christmas tree, if displayed, is put up just a few days before Christmas. Nearly every home has a Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, along with the three Kings, shepherds, and even other French figures, such as local dignitaries or characters.
Although mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season, it is more related to the New Year. It is thought to bring good fortune throughout the coming year. You might be lucky and receive a kiss. The French kiss under the mistletoe and offer their best wishes for the coming year as they hear the bells toll signaling the start of the New Year.
Some families burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day in the belief that if they do, they will have an abundant harvest the following year.
These are just some fun facts about Christmas customs in another part of the world. We at GlobalChristmas.com wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.