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How Xmas is celebrated in France

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Joyeux Noël! Adeline, one of our Assistant Managers, explores French Christmas traditions.

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A l’approche de Noël…

The count-down has now started, and Christmas is just around the corner. Every country has their own traditions and ways to celebrate, so let’s use this as an opportunity to find out more about other cultures. I’ve chosen to talk about what I know best, which is French traditions!

Le calendrier de l’Avent — This is a tradition in the UK too, especially now that supermarkets give us so many excuses to eat chocolate every day! As a child, it took me a while to understand that it was “avent” and not “avant”. It is the countdown before (avant) Christmas, isn’t it? But it actually comes from Latin adventus, which is used to talk about the period preceding the birth of Jesus. It’s probably easier to remember thanks to the English version, which is closer to the Latin original and doesn’t have a confusing homonym.

Les santons de Provence — This is quite typical of the South of France (Provence). The santons are small terracotta figurines that are traditionally hand-made and hand-painted. They originally represent the nativity scene (la crèche) and families would usually have a handful of them, but shops, churches and town halls have bigger versions where an entire village is pictured. You would then find dozens of different characters, depicted in their traditional costumes and occupations: you’ll find a baker (boulanger) or a fishmonger (poissonnier) for instance. Take a look at the wide variety offered by this renowned santons maker.

Saint Nicolas et le Père Fouettard — These are traditional of the North and North East of France. Saint Nicolas is reminiscent of Father Christmas (le père Noël), and is said to bring sweets and presents to children during the night between the 5th and 6th of December. This is only for well-behaved children though — if you have been naughty, you will meet “le Père Fouettard”, who is a scary figure who threatens children with his stick (“fouet” literally means “whip” in French, so it is quite a strong incentive for kids to behave!).

Les chansons de Noël — British Christmas carols often have French equivalents (I’ve always wondered which came first in some cases: Douce nuit or Silent Night? Vive le vent or Jingle Bells?). We don’t have as many choirs as in the UK but if you have children learning French, Christmas songs could be a fun way to get some exposure to French while preserving the holiday mood: do you fancy trying to sing “Vive le vent” or “Petit Papa Noël”? These versions also have the lyrics so you can sing along and perfect your French accent.

Le réveillon — This is the equivalent of “eve” in English. In France, the actual time when we celebrate Christmas can vary, depending mostly if children are involved or not. For families with children, le Père Noël is likely to visit during the night from the 24th to the 25th, and children wearing their best pyjamas wake up to find their presents in the morning. Adults may choose to share dinner on the evening of the 24th or at lunchtime on the 25th (or both!). You might have turkey (“dinde”), but it’s definitely not the only option: traditional dishes also include foie gras and salmon for instance, as well as a growing number of vegetarian alternatives (such as “faux gras”, which imitates the texture and taste of the dish, without the cruelty!). You will probably have “amuse bouche” or “amuse gueule”, appetizers meant to literally “please your mouth”. The traditional dessert would be the Yule log (“bûche de Noël”). If you fancy polishing up your French skills as well as your cooking skills, check out this link: French Christmas recipes.

What’s your favourite Christmas tradition?

Blog Post Crafted by Adeline

Adeline assists Leticia in running our Admin Team. With a PhD in English, she can call herself a doctor but can’t write prescriptions!

Adeline manages the staff on our Admin Team, liaising with tutors, clients and applicants. She is responsible for processing the ID, Qualifications, DBS Check and References for all our newly joining tutors, as well as taking tuition enquiries, matching tutors to clients, and supporting tutors and clients throughout the process of tuition.


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