Christmas in France

Living_room_christmas_tree_Lo_Res-1The commercialisation of Christmas, led by America, has not happened to the same extent that it has in Britain. The celebrations are still centred around the church, family and friends.

If you’re spending Christmas in France, you’ll notice that many things are the same as in Britain. Father Christmas (Pere Noel) brings presents on Christmas Eve for good children. In eastern France, Pere Noel is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard who helps to decide if children have been good enough to deserve presents. Families gather for a festive meal and adults exchange gifts and, to a limited degree cards. The sending of cards is far less common in France and is usually restricted to religious cards or messages to distant family members who won’t be present at Christmas. A more usual tradition is to send cards at New Year to family and friends. This is usually done in the first week of January rather than before New Year’s Eve.

In the lead up to Christmas, in addition to the traditional Christmas tree, many French homes are decorated with a nativity scene of the stable with clay figures. These clay figures are often bought from Christmas fairs during December.

Another tradition is to burn a yule log, usually cherry, on Christmas Eve. The log is often sprinkled with red wine to create an aroma.

The main difference between how our two countries celebrate is in the timing of when things happen.

In the Britain families gather for Christmas dinner on Christmas day but by this time the French have beaten us to it. They prefer a large and very long meal on Christmas Eve. The “Réveillon”, as the French call this meal, is often eaten when the family has returned from church. This meal can last for up to six hours and the food served differs from region to region. Goose may be choice for the main course (Plat Principal ) in Alsace but in nearby Burgundy turkey is the favourite. Other preferences include venison, duck and even wild boar. Whatever the meat the favourite stuffing seems to be chestnut. Add to this various courses including pâté, oysters, crab, cheese and any number of game dishes you can easily see why the meal takes so long. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log (bûche de Noël) is served and incredibly, in some areas, a choice of 13 desserts are served. All of this, of course, is accompanied by aperitifs, red wine, white wine, champagne and desert wine.

A super location for Christmas!- need to book early.When the meal is finally finished adults and older children will start and open their presents. Younger children will open their presents on Christmas morning.

While the British are tucking into their dinner on Christmas day, the French use this meal as a way of eating up the left-over food from the previous night.

So, if you are in France this Christmas, why not join in with the local traditions. This could literally be the best way of getting a real taste of France.

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