Christmas is about tradition, which is about doing the same thing at a certain time every year. But traditions are not the same in every culture, and neither is the way Christmas is celebrated. The French typically celebrate the holiday in their own way, and in this blog we will explore French Christmas Traditions, how they are unique and also what is similar to the way it is celebrated across other cultures.
Advent calendars are popular in French traditions much like in English. It’s a fun way to build up the anticipation of Christmas as the countdown approaches Christmas Day and kids get more and more excited until they finally read “Le 25 Décembre: Joyeux Noël!”
Traditionally Christmas Eve is a time for family gatherings, where French families will get together for dinner and enjoy food and each other’s company. The dinner itself is called “Le réveillon” which comes from the French word “réveiller” meaning “to wake up”, because traditionally this meal was a night long feast that involved staying awake until the meal was finished in the morning! This was because French families used to attend midnight mass for Christmas and come home to celebrate this tradition the rest of the night. However, nowadays this meal is not celebrated to this extent in most cases, and although the meal can be long, it is typically a more appropriate length amongst French families.
What’s on the menu?
A typical French-Canadian meal includes tourtière which is essentially a meat pie made with pork or beef, they also enjoy a nice roast or a turkey like most Canadians do. Then just when you think you’re full, there’s the desserts. La bûche de Noël is a Christmas Log, which is a rich chocolate cake that is decorated to look like a Yule log, but don’t be fooled by its appearance it is incredibly delicious! Then there are also the Thirteen Desserts which is a tradition celebrated in the Provence region of France. Why 13 you might ask? Because you can never have enough desserts! But also, because the 13 desserts have a religious significance as they symbolize Jesus and his 12 apostles. The desserts generally include dried fruits, cake, and other goodies depending on the family’s taste, and while 13 desserts seems like an impossible task after a full meal, it is so delicious that you forget that you’re basically eating 2 weeks worth of desserts!
There are many popular original French Christmas songs, many of which are sung at church, while others are not about religion. A few classics are “Petit Papa Noël” which has even been covered by Céline Dion, “Les anges dans nos campagnes” and “Il est né le divin enfant”. But many of the more popular Christmas songs are typically French remakes of English songs. For example, “Vive le vent” instead of Jingle Bells, “Au royaume du bonhomme d’hiver” instead of Winter Wonderland, and many more! Be sure to check them out if you haven’t heard them!
Le Sapin de Noël and Le Père Noël
As is the tradition in many countries, the French also put up a Christmas tree (Sapin de Noël) and decorate it with ornaments and lights to celebrate the holiday. And the kids hope they’re on the nice list so that “Le Père Noël” or Santa Claus leaves some presents under the tree for them.
How will you celebrate this year?
So there you have it, now you know how to celebrate the holidays the French way this year! If you celebrate Christmas, feel free to grab some inspiration from the French to change things up a bit. Throw on some French music, try some Bûche de Noël, and have a “Joyeux Noël”!