CHRISTMAS OFFER 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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

France has historically been on the leading edge of eco-friendly projects and regulations. While many argue that much more needs to be done to meet environmental goals in France and globally, here are 11 ways that French government, companies and people are striving to be green.

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out. Find out the fascinating stories behind the names of these places in France featuring dragons, gods and Sardinian kings.

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Michel and Alain Roux have unveiled the menu at their new French-inspired riverside brasserie, Roux at Skindles

Read more
Friday, September 21, 2018

As a floating restaurant opens in Paris, we take a look at some of the city’s alternative dining experiences, involving famous rail carriages, secret doorways and eating in total darkness.

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kate Mosse was a guest speaker at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October 2018 and spoke about finding inspiration for her latest book – and beginning of a new series of novels set in France – The Burning Chambers.

Read more
Culture and attractions
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Agnès Poirier’s latest book explores the history of Paris 1940–1950 and the influential people that lived through the time. The French writer spoke about her book this year at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Read more
Thu, 12:24

What would the festive season be without a few games? Get in the competitive spirit with our Christmas language quiz

Read more
Friday, November 30, 2018

Gather the family and see how many of these animals you can name in French

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pigs, processions and high prices - why truffle season is a serious business in France

Read more
Monday, October 1, 2018

If you’re looking for a great wine to take home to impress your guests, you can now discover the best bottles in your neighbourhood at the touch of a button

Read more
Subscribe for

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