The best Christmas traditions in France

The thirteen desserts, photo by Olivier Duquesne on Flickr

Christmas is approaching fast, and in only a few months you can say “Joyeux Noël”, or Merry Christmas in French. Celebrating Christmas in France is an important affair, with shopping for presents and decorating taking up much of the time of the French, but with much energy dedicated to following Christmas traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. You can ind various Christmas customs from bustling Paris to the sleepy countryside. Some traditions are common all over the France, while others only in certain regions, but nevertheless, they make Christmas an unforgettable holiday. Here are some of the best Christmas traditions in France.

Waiting for Christmas

photo by Richard Masoner

On Christmas Eve, French children polish their shoes and put them under the tree or in front of the fireplace, hoping that during the night Papa Noël, or Father Christmas, will sneak in and leave their presents in their shoes. If the children were naughty, then they can expect a visit from Père Fouettard (the Whipping Father), who will give them a lump of coal, and/or a good spanking with a stick.

Le Réveillon

Although not everyone attends the mass on Christmas Eve, those who do return home and have a huge feast called le Réveillon, meaning the ‘awakening’ after the birth of Jesus. People can celebrate the Réveillon at home with their families, or head out in stay up all night eating and drinking in a cafe or restaurant (many venues stay open all night long on Christmas). The menu of the Réveillon is different in each region of France, but they all comprise several courses and a lot of very filling food.

The thirteen desserts

Galette des rois, photo by kochtopf on Flickr

One of the best Christmas traditions in France for those who have a sweet tooth is the suite of thirteen desserts that people have at the Christmas table in Provence. The desserts follow a lavish meal with seven different courses often accompanied by seven different wines. The desserts consist of dried fruit, fresh fruit and sweets such as biscuits, cakes, quince past and nougats.

Galette des Rois

The Galette des Rois, or King’s Cake, is a cake eaten during the celebration of the Epiphany. It is made of flaky puff pastry filled with frangipane, and it has a trinket (called la fève) hidden inside it. Traditionally, the youngest person in the household (called the little king, ‘le petit roi’) would distribute the slices of cake among the family members and guests. The person who finds the figurine in their slice becomes queen or king for a day.


photo by Richard Masoner on Flickr

The centerpiece of Christmas decorations in France, like in many other cultures where Christmas is celebrated, is the Christmas tree or sapin de Noel. The first Christmas tree appeared in France in the first half of the 19th century. Another common Christmas prop is the crèche, a nativity scene usually made with puppets, which decorates churches and even some homes.


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