Christmas in France

{Bûche de Noël, image from here}

I thought that I would share some facts about Christmas in France......

Nearly every French home at Christmas time displays a Nativity scene or creche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. The creche is often peopled with little clay figures called santons or "little saints." An extensive tradition has evolved around these little figures which are made by craftsmen in the south of France throughout the year. In addition to the usual Holy Family, shepherds, and Magi, the craftsmen also produce figures in the form of local dignitaries and characters.

{Santons in Avignon}

The craftsmanship involved in creating the gaily colored santons is quite astounding and the molds have been passed from generation to generation since the seventeenth century. Throughout December the figures are sold at annual Christmas fairs in Marseille and Aix.

The Christmas tree has never been particularly popular in France, and though the use of the Yule log has faded, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the Bûche de Noël, which means "Christmas Log." The cake, among other food in great abundance is served at the grand feast of the season, which is called le rveillon.

Le rveillon is a very late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The menu for the meal varies according to regional culinary tradition. In Alsace, goose is the main course, in Burgundy it is turkey with chestnuts, and the Parisians feast upon oysters and pat de foie gras.

Here in SW France, the locals feast on foie gras, canard, oysters which is all washed down with a glass of local wine - we have many to choose from as the area is reknown for its wine.

French children receive gifts from Pere Noel who travels with his stern disciplinarian companion Pre Fouettard. Pre Fouettard reminds Pere Noel of just how each child has behaved during the past year.

In some parts of France Pere Noel brings small gifts on St. Nicholas Eve (December 6) and visits again on Christmas. In other places it is le petit Jesus who brings the gifts. Generally adults wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts.

The count down has begun, only 23 days to go.....

L x


  1. I found it really fascinating to find out how the French celebrate Christmas. I love how every culture has their on twist to put on the holiday season. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great to learn some new things!
    Happy december!

  3. Are you kidding ;-) I am soooo not waiting for New Year's to open the PRESSIES. TORTURE I SAY! TORTURE!! But I will make the most of the French tradition of sending New Year's greetings out instead of Christmas cards (seeing as I'm horribly late!!) We ALWAYS open our presents on the 25th - adults too (at least while the poppets are small!) Note: as they leave the shoe out for Santa/petit Jésus here, I am putting out my largest orange welly - just so he can't miss me!! Bisous

  4. Haha Ange, I was thinking the same thing as I read about waiting 'til New Year's Day, no way!
    Wow Leeann, you could spend a life time collecting all those little characters, how cool is that!
    Thanks for letting us in on some wonderful French culture.

  5. Leeann that is so interesting - great to learn of how other countries celebrate Christmas and different customs and traditions - wonderful!

  6. Thanks for the information. I was in Galarie Lafayette this weekend and saw all of the figurinees. It's great to know the history that goes along with them. I will be spending Christmas with a French family in Brittany, France- do you have any suggestions on a proper gift, I could bring the host family? Or culture do's and don'ts?

  7. Thanks for sharing the information on Christmas in France. It was nice going through it. Keep up the good work.

  8. This post was facinating and so fun to read! I love knowing how people really do live and celebrate around the world and especially in France. We try to do a Bouche de Noel here at Christmas time. I have made them and found a beautiful one last year at a bakery. Not sure what I will do this year. Might have to try it again. Thanks!

  9. The SW France after-mass meal sounds good to me. I once spent two weeks in Aire-sur-l'Adour and still dream about les Maisons de Maitre shown for sale in windows of the town's real estate shops. I love the region and hope to get back there one day. Thanks for sharing these insights on the local customs, and thanks for visiting Garvinweasel!

  10. Hi there, I have just found your blog and was instantly drawn to the cake, raspberries are my favourite!
    I spent a lovely few weeks in your area, with my son (when he was small), we travelled around in our old Transit & had a fantastic time "mooching", I hope to return one day.....

  11. Isn't it funny how we all celebrate Christmas differently ?
    We have a Christmas Log in England. It's lovely to hear about the French celebrations. XXXX

  12. Fascinating about the molds that are passed down from the 1600s, wow, my mind immediately went to imagining the santons with a raku finish. Loved learning a bit about Christmas in France...thanks for sharing!

  13. I love all these traditions...I love that we can add them to our own and have even more, xv.

  14. Fascinating, and so different from the UK which, geographically if nothing else, is so close.
    The food does sound rather rich, though - not sure I could take too much goose in one sitting!

  15. Thanks for the French traditions. That was great.

  16. Thank you for telling us about how the French celebrate the holidays. I once lived in Belgium and was fascinated by their traditions.
    I remember one tradition was to decorate a Christmas tree outside the home with food for the birds. And, of course, the exchange of Christmas gifts on New Years.

  17. One of my favorite traditions I began as an adult is my Christmas Eve Bûche de Noël! Now I am eager to add a Nativity scene to our holiday decor!

  18. Wow - those little santons are amazing! It's so great to learn about new traditions. What will you be eating on Christmas Day Leeann? It all sounds so delicious! xx

  19. We have a young friend who is doing her last semester of study in Lyon,before she becomes a fully fledged lawyer back here in Wellington. She is having such a wonderful time and will be having Christmas with two other students in the home of a French family so it is very interesting hearing about their traditions.

  20. Thank you for telling us about how the French celebrate the holidays.

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  21. Leeann,
    Thanks for enlightening us to the traditions of the French. It's interesting to know that the holiday has different days that are celebrated, not just Christmas day. Saint Nicholas eve will be here soon! I'm surprised the Christmas tree isn't that popular there. Just think how cute they would be if they were adorned with Fleur de lis ornaments!
    Joyeux Noel!
    I'll be back soon


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