Christmas is approaching and the cold with it however, the festive season is when French households like to get together the most for warming Christmas preparations representing true moments of joy.
Advent, referring to the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, symbolises the coming of Christ among men for Christians, and has long since been an integral part of Christmas preparations for even non-believers.
So, to make the short days of winter a little more enjoyable French families decorate their Christmas tree and light up their houses. An advent wreath is placed on the door, the advent candles are brought out and an advent calendar, taken from Germanic tradition, given to older children with a chocolate hidden behind each door to help make the wait until Christmas a little more endurable!
Feast of Saint Nicholas
In the North and East of France they also celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas, patron saint and protector of children. Saint Nicholas could be considered the ancestor of Santa Claus and on the eve of the 6th of December French children typically place their shoes by the fireplace before bed. A carrot or some sugar is also left for Saint Nicholas’ donkey. They generally wake up to chocolate and oranges however, it is still common for adults to tell children who have been naughty that instead of jolly Saint Nicholas, Père Fouettard (the Whipping Father) will be coming!
Just before the Feast of Saint Nicholas, or the last Sunday before Christmas, some French families set up the Nativity Scene (La Crèche). The entire Nativity Scene is completed on Christmas Day with the arrival of baby Jesus. Alternatively, some households set up pagan nativity scenes, a tradition dating back to the French Revolution when large religious nativity scenes were banned.
The most common “Provençal Crèche” (Provence Nativity Scene) comprises the “Santon” (literally little saint) featuring figurines representing small saints, formerly made from bread. This is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation.
Letter to Santa
In French schools, it is traditional to write a letter to Santa stating that they have been very good children and asking Father Christmas to please bring them some presents on Christmas Day from a list of things they want. Given that Santa Claus is always at the forefront of technology, it is also possible to send him an email.
The evening of the 24th of December is when the excitement is at its peak. Christmas dinner is the perfect opportunity to enjoy some of the finest local French dishes.
Oysters, turkey with chestnuts, champagne, fois gras served with “oignons confits” (onion marmalade), and finally the famous “Buche de Noël” (Yule log) for dessert is enjoyed all across France and Navarre. In Provence, the “treize desserts de Noël” (the 13 desserts of Christmas), symbolising the 12 apostles and Jesus, is a well-ingrained tradition. These many desserts comprise nougat, dried or candied fruit, or fruit paste.
So, if you’re planning a trip to France this Christmas then now you know what to expect. Joyeux Noël!