Christmas in France

By Cara Winkley

There is no better feeling than being five years old again waking up early on Christmas morning to rush down the stairs and see a pile of presents under the tree from Santa.

Christmas is a holiday celebrated all over the world, and while the main concept is the same, each country has their own way of celebrating.

The French start the celebration of Christmas on December 6th with the feast day of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a man who sold what he had to give to the poor. One story is told about a man with three daughters who could not afford their dowries. On three separate occasions a bag of gold was found in their stockings hanging by the fireplace. Children began hanging stockings and putting shoes out in hopes that St. Nick would stop by their house and leave a little gift.

Christmas in France is called Noël. Noël comes from the phrase “Les bonnes nouvelles,” which means literally, “the good news” and relates to the good news of Jesus’ birth in the Bible.

Clarisse Barbier, a French teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, is from Besancon, France. When asked what her family does different from the U.S. for Christmas, she mentioned one of the most popular Christmas traditions in France.

“To be honest, the only thing different is the Marché de Noël,” Barbier said.

The Marché de Noël is a Christmas market. Most cities in France will have Christmas markets starting late November up until Christmas. These markets sell everything from food to Christmas crafts and usually surround a large decorated Christmas tree in the town square.

Many French do not put trees in their house but instead make a Yule log cake. This cake represents the tradition of burning a wooden log from Christmas Eve to New Years. The Yule log cake is called “Bûche de Noël.”

Families will attend Christmas Eve services, and then go back home and eat a Christmas dinner followed by the Bûche de Noël. Christmas meals differ in each region in France. In the West, the French eat fish or roast goose for their Christmas Eve dinner. In northern regions, crêpes are a popular dish. Down South, 13 desserts are served to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples.

After dinner, children open presents from parents and are sent to bed. Unlike the U.S., where Santa is the one who brings the presents, children in France are told that either “Père Noël” or Baby Jesus bring the gifts Christmas morning.

The next day, the children jump out of bed and race downstairs to see what new gifts this year will bring.


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