Virtual Advent Tour: Christmas in France

Virtual Advent #2 (1)I’ve been following the Virtual Advent Tour for several years now but this is my first year participating, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I would share with you for my advent tour stop. The funny thing is that I never really knew what an advent calendar was until we moved to France and I started seeing them in the shops around November. Unlike my own childhood in the U.S., my children have always had a calendar of some sort to follow through the month of December, generally with a piece of chocolate as a daily reward for being patient until the big day on the 25th.

Though the U.S. and France share certain Christian traditions and commonalities between Western cultures, there are still plenty of things that are different about the French Christmas experience. Some of my favorites include:

1. Putting candles in the windows for La Fête de Lumières.

Technically this isn’t a Christmas event as it happens on the 8th of December, but I still associate it with the holiday season. This is a tradition that is specific to a certain region in France where my husband is from (around Lyon, although he would want me to specify that he is from St. Etienne as there’s a big rivalry between the two cities!) and so every year we put candles in the windows on this day to celebrate.

2. Shopping at the Christmas market.

Just about every village in France has a Christmas market at some point in December. Usually the stands feature local artisans and products that you can buy for yourself or as Christmas presents, as well as vin chaud (mulled wine).

2. Celebrating Le Réveillon.

Traditionally, this is the big meal at Christmas time, eaten after attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I don’t know how many families still attend mass, but we definitely eat a good meal on Christmas Eve. And a good meal on Christmas Day, too…Christmas in France is all about the eating.

3. Putting your slippers in front of the tree.

My American family’s tradition was always to put our stockings in front of the tree, but here in France people put their slippers. Of course, when I lived in the U.S. we didn’t actually wear slippers, so this is definitely more of a French thing.  Everyone wears slippers here in the winter on account of the cold tile floors, but they also make a nice base for your stash of presents.

4. Seeing the decorated crèche.

French people do the nativity scene in a big way, with much more than just the traditional stable and the holy family on display. My husband’s family usually has one under the Christmas tree, with an elaborately decorated backdrop as home to the different santons (figurines) that are set in various scenes of village life.

5. Eating the bûche de Noël and papillotes.

The Christmas meal itself is always good. We usually eat foie gras as well as some kind of large stuffed bird and all the trimmings, and we  drink plenty of champagne. But the best thing about Christmas food to me is the chocolate. The typical dessert is the Christmas log, a jelly roll cake covered in chocolate icing and powdered sugar and decorated with a winter scene of trees and an ax (for chopping down the log?), and there are always papillotes, which are chocolate candies containing a literary quote or joke.

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of Christmas in France, and a very happy holidays to all of you!

My mother-in-law's tree, with crêche and slippers underneath.

My mother-in-law’s tree, with crêche and slippers underneath.


7 thoughts on “Virtual Advent Tour: Christmas in France

  1. Joanna @ CreateYourWorld

    Thanks Beth, I really enjoyed reading this. I don’t know much about French traditions even though I live in Belgium. They’re probably similar, but we’re never in Belgium at Christmas, so don’t really see them. We put slippers out for Santa in Poland too though! Happy Christmas!

  2. Lisa

    I also really enjoyed reading this, especially as it’s early on Christmas Eve morning. Can i ask, what is the significance of Dec. 8th for the candles? Since you say it’s specific to the region, I’m thinking it’s not for the Catholic holy day? Merry Christmas!

  3. sprite

    La Fête de Lumières sounds like a nice tradition. Maybe we will borrow it next year. =)

    I am definitely seeing more holiday markets in my area (Washington, D.C.) the last few years than I did when I was younger.

  4. Leeswammes

    Thanks for this post! I love reading about your traditions. Do you know in the Netherlands we put our shoes at the chimney for our Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) to come and fill them? He comes on december 5th, it’s a different holiday (not Christmas).


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