Everyone has heard of France’s Christmas markets but what other festive events are there in France in December?
Habits de Lumière, Épernay
Bottles of champagne are popped all over the world at times of celebration, so it’s only right that the commune of Épernay in the Champagne region holds a three-day festival in honour of its famous export. Taking place from 8-10 December, over 30,000 visitors come to Habits de Lumière where they can enjoy firework displays, musical entertainment and a vintage car parade. Food and drink takes centre stage with champagne bars, cellar tours, cookery demonstrations and tastings of regional products plus a gourmet event for children.
Fête de la Dinde, Licques
Celebrations to honour the turkey transform the town of Licques in Pas-de-Calais for three days in December. Held from 9-10 December, the Fête de la Dinde begins with a competition in which the breeders of the best turkey, guinea fowls and capons are rewarded for their efforts. A Christmas market of regional produce runs throughout the event, and on the Saturday night, revellers gather for a meal and dancing. On Sunday the Confrérie de l’Ordre de la Dinde guides a procession of turkeys around the town before more celebrations are enjoyed in the town square. The festival attracts thousands of visitors and around 2,000 meals are served at the event.
Fêtes de Saint Nicolas, Nancy
There’s much more to old St Nick than a crimson red suit and a reindeer-drawn sleigh, as Les Fêtes de Saint Nicolas in Nancy in north-east France reminds us. From 24 November – 31 December, the spirit of the Christmas figure can be seen all over the city with a Christmas market, street parades, puppet shows and concerts.
Nativity Trail, Castellet
The classic story of Christmas is being sweetly told in the commune of Castellet in Var from 15 December to 15 January through the annual Nativity Trail. Visitors will be able to discover the nativity story along the village’s streets, with 30 nativity scenes, some traditional, some not so conventional, perched on windowsills, hidden in the hollows of walls or among garden trees. Created by some of the village’s 120 inhabitants, nativity figures are made from clay, papier mâché, wire and even vegetables. This sweet trail reminds visitors of the beginnings of the festive holiday and is a unique way to discover the area.
Fête des Lumières, Lyon
If you think the twinkling Christmas lights in France’s towns and villages are impressive, your eyes will light up when they see Lyon’s Fête des Lumières, taking place from 7-10 December. The event can be traced back to 1852 when the city’s people lit their windows with candles to celebrate the inauguration of the statue of the Virgin Mary that had been erected on Fourvière hill. Fast forward over a century and a half later and the humble gesture has turned into one of the world’s biggest and most impressive light shows that attracts millions of visitors each year to see lyon’s buildings, streets, squares and parks light up.
Bain de Noël, Valhras
Fancy a festive dip this year? Join Father Christmas for a plunge in the Mediterranean at the annual Bain de Noël. Head for Valras beach, near Béziers, on 23 December, where the water will be about 15°C; chilly but refreshing! If you can’t face getting into the water, watch from a warm vantage point with a vin chaud.
Paris is transformed in December into a vast, magical fairyland. The festive excitement is impossible to resist, and everywhere you turn there is something to get you into the spirit of Christmas. Traditional Christmas markets pop up in front of the Notre Dame, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in La Défense area and at the Gare de l’Est where you can pick up decorations, presents, gourmet food products, and arts and crafts. The beautiful nativity scenes at Notre-Dame cathedral, l’Église de la Madeleine and Sacré-Cœur are worth a visit as are the dazzling window displays and decorations at department stores: Galleries Lafayette, Printemps and Le Bon Marché.
Christmas at the Châteaux of the Loire Valley
Fancy experiencing Christmas in truly grand style? Chenonceau is one of the Loire Valley’s best-loved and most impressive châteaux. Throughout this month there are magnificent floral displays and Christmas trees to gaze at, accompanied by traditional music and warmed by fires lit in the château’s many splendid fireplaces. At the Château Royal de Blois there is a marché de Noël with stalls selling artisan gifts and Christmas music in the chapel. Visit Chambord after dark to see the grand façade illuminated and the magnificent avenue of Christmas trees and garlands inside the château.
Christmas at Château Vaux-le-Vicomte
From 25 November until 7 January, the château is decked out in a wealth of festive decorations; the facade is illuminated from nightfall and the main courtyard lined with elegant Christmas trees and a giant stag. Inside, more than 5,000 twinkling ornaments add a flourish to the lavish interiors and in the Grand Salon you will find an enchanted forest.
Féeries de Noël, Morzine 23 Dec – 5 Jan
For 2 weeks in December and January the Alpine village of Morzine is transformed into a winter wonderland with festive workshops, light shows and a Christmas market. Don’t miss the ice-sculpting classes, pyrotechnic ballet performance on the slopes, 3m Christmas tree and Père Noël descending the Pleny piste by torchlight on skis.
A Different Kind of Christmas, Carpentras, 16 Dec – 7 Jan
The streets of Carpentras are transformed into a Christmas story with 150 free shows performed by artists from all over Europe. There are also huge Christmas trees and street lights, carriage rides through the town, a food market, a Foire aux Santons, a giant Provençal nativity scene and magic shows.