5 ISSUES FOR £5 Subscribe to France Magazines today click here

How do the French celebrate Christmas?

PUBLISHED: 13:38 15 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:47 23 November 2017

How do the French celebrate Christmas © Wyevale Garden Centres Noel Light Cameo Image

How do the French celebrate Christmas © Wyevale Garden Centres Noel Light Cameo Image


Traditional French Christmas celebrations include letters from Santa, feasts on Christmas Eve and presents at the beginning of December!

A letter from Santa

Writing to Santa is a tradition across the world but in France he writes back! A law was passed in 1962, stating that children who had written to Père Noël must receive a postcard by way of response. For over four decades, the postal centre in Libourne in Gironde has replied to countless children (some from as far away as Russia) on behalf of Père Noël, with thank you notes and enchanting seasonal greetings.

Decorating the house with traditional Christmas decorations

French decorations tend to be more understated than the more extravagant style that’s popular in the UK. Decorations are often bought from the marchés de Noël and a quality over quantity strategy is usually favoured. The Nativity is an important part of the French Christmas decor where, alongside the Holy Family, shepherds and three kings, you can spot more unconventional figures including a butcher, baker or police officer in the crèche that’s left on display until 2 February. Christmas trees are also popular in France. They first appeared in Sélestat in Alsace in the 11th century, (the first town in the country to authorise the felling of a tree for Christmas) and then the sapin de Noël became a common feature in French households in the 1830s. Traditionally decorated with apples, paper flowers and ribbons, they are now more commonly adorned with baubles and fairy lights. There is also a tradition of bringing yule logs made from cherry wood into the home on Christmas Eve. To give the tradition a truly French twist, some people sprinkle the log with red wine so that it will have an aromatic smell when it burns. In a humble gesture to honour the beginning of Christmas, it was customary to leave the log and candles burning throughout the night, with some drinks and food, should Mary and the baby arrive during the night.


Related articles

12 reasons to spend Christmas in France

Ian Moore: bringing British traditions to a French Christmas


Start giving presents at the beginning of December!

For children in France, there’s the added bonus of enjoying the gift-giving season for that little bit longer, with Christmas celebrations starting on 6 December for St Nicholas’ Day. On the eve of these festivities, children place their shoes near to the fireplace as they sing traditional songs or hear stories about the saint from grandparents, before waking in the morning to find their shoes filled with treats – if they’ve been good – while other children who have featured on St Nicholas’ naughty list will find a bundle of twigs tied together with ribbon.

Eating a mouth-watering feast on Christmas Eve

The French traditionally have their main meal – Le Réveillon –after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The impressive banquet includes seasonal favourites such as oysters with mignonette sauce, snails, foie gras, candied chestnuts and capon, a cockerel or rooster bird. If you can manage it, dessert is usually bûche de Noël, a chocolate sponge cake shaped to resemble a yule log. First created in France in the 1800s by a pâtissier from Lyon, Monaco or Paris (depending on who’s telling the tale), the traditional dessert pays homage to the French tradition of burning a yule log during the festive period. While a small glass of sweet liqueur is the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate pudding, a merry flow of champagne is preferred with the main course.


Related articles

The 13 traditional desserts eaten at Christmas in Provence

5 French Christmas traditions


Continue the celebrations into January!

The French festive dining experience is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint, as festive feasts continue into the New Year (a similar banquet to Christmas Eve is held on the last night of the year). Perhaps the most charming of the culinary customs happens on 6 January when families go to the boulangerie to buy the traditional treat of galette des rois to mark the feast of Epiphany. A puff pastry cake, the dessert dates back to the 14th century and hides a figurine in its layers of pastry, butter and ground almonds. Traditionally, the family gather round to cut the cake with the youngest child hiding under the table, instructing who should get each piece, so as no one can cheat. Whoever bites into a slice with the enclosed trinket is crowned king or queen for the day, bringing the custom of eating like royalty for almost two weeks to a very sweet end.


Related articles

Christmas markets in France

Christmas events in France

This is why you should visit Paris at Christmas


Article by Living France Living France

More from Language and Culture

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Born out of revolution, the French national flag is the ultimate symbol of liberté, egalité and fraternité

Read more
French culture
Friday, June 29, 2018

From June to August sun-drenched fields of lavender are a feature of Provence. Find out how lavender was first introduced to the region and became such an important part of the landscape

Read more
Provence-Alpes-Cote d Azur
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

You don’t need to break the bank to eat at a French Michelin-starred restaurant, as these 11 restaurants prove

Read more
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

You’ve heard the term and probably have already eaten in a French bistro, but what makes a bistro in France so special?

Read more
French culture
Friday, November 24, 2017

Director and actress Fiona Gordon takes us behind the scenes of her latest comedy film Lost in Paris which is released in UK cinemas on 24 November

Read more
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The stereotype says that the French are rude and unwelcoming. But many Brits are finding a happy home and community in France. Here are three French culture myths investigated:

Read more
Monday, July 9, 2018

Learn French and explore south-west France with Maison de Textile

Read more
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Looking for some cocktail ingredients to jazz up that summer barbecue and impress your guests? Learn all about the origins of three unusual French alcoholic drinks

Read more
Friday, April 20, 2018

Indulge your sweet tooth with our little guide to some of France’s traditional sweets

Read more
Subscribe today

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now