Christmas in France

Please visit the new version of this page at

Noël en France

Noel To say 'Merry Christmas' you say 'Joyeux Noël.' 
Father Christmas is le Père Noël.  If you are going to send him a letter then it should begin:-
Cher Père Noël....
Pere Noel

NoelIn many parts of northern and eastern France, Christmas celebrations begin on the 6 December - also known as
Saint Nicholas' Day. 
The celebrations take place because, once upon a time there were three children who got lost in the countryside. 
An evil butcher kidnapped them. 
Luckily, Saint-Nicolas rescued the children and returned them to their parents.  This is why Saint Nicholas is known as the protector of children.  Another name for him is Santa Claus!

Saint Nicholas

NoelOn the night of 5 December (the eve of Saint Nicholas) children place their shoes in front of the fireplace and they sing traditional songs to the saint before going to bed.  They believe that he will arrive on his donkey carrying treats and gifts for children. 
Below is a traditional song for the celebration of Saint Nicholas' Day.

Traditional French song
The words to the song above are:-
Il était trois petits enfants
There were three little children
Qui s'en allaient glaner aux champs.
Who would go to gather grain in the fields.
S'en vinrent un soir chez un boucher.
They came across a butcher's house one evening.
"Boucher, voudrais-tu nous coucher?"
"Butcher, can we sleep at your house?"
"Entrez, entrez, petits enfants.
"Come in, come in, little children.
Il y a de la place assurément!"
Of course there is room!"

To read the words of another traditional French song for Saint Nicholas, click HERE.

NoelOn the morning of 6 December, children awake to find their shoes filled with treats.  Naughty children receive a little bundle of twigs tied together with a ribbon! 
Most children will receive some twigs in addition to their presents, just to represent any times they have been naughty.

NoelThere is also a Christmas bogeyman called
le Père Fouettard. 
He represents the evil butcher who kidnapped the children. 
He follows Saint Nicholas.  He carries a whip, is dressed in black and his face is the colour of coal. 
He brings no presents. 

Pere Fouettard
The name le P
ère Fouettard comes from the word for
'the whip.'      le fouet = the whip.

NoelOn 6 December, in many French towns, there are parades with beautifully decorated floats,  enacting the arrival of Saint Nicholas and his evil companion le Père Fouettard. 
This is a celebration for the whole family.

NoelIn one French town called Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, the parade on 6 December leads Saint Nicholas to the Town Hall where the Mayor officially welcomes the saint and gives him 'the key of the city'.  After this ceremony, watched by the families of the town, there is a fireworks display.

Noel In the city of Lyon there is a wonderful
Festival Of Lights.  It is called la Fête des Lumières

It is a four day festival, starting on 5 December and finishing
on 8 December. 
Why does it take place on these dates? 
In France, the 8 December is a celebration in honour of the The Virgin Mary.
In Lyon, during this festival, everyone places candles on their window sills. 

The buildings are lit up with coloured lights and the streets are decorated with illuminations.
Above:- a photo of the Hôtel de Ville of Lyon, lit up during the Festival Of Lights. 
(This photo is by Antoine Taveneaux, source: Wikimedia Commons)

NoelAn important French tradition is to display
une crèche somewhere in your home.   This tradition is most popular in the area of Provence. 
La cr
èche is a pretty arrangement of little buildings and figurines surrounding the Christmas crib.  The figurines are called santons and they include:-
The Baby Jesus - l'Enfant
Mary and Joseph - Marie et Joseph
the shepherds - les bergers
the angels - les anges
The Three Kings - les Rois Mages
the animals - les animaux

village people - les habitants d'un village

NoelIn la crèche, the figurines of the village people represent lots of different professions, for example:-
le boulanger - the baker, le fermier - the farmer,
le chasseur
- the hunter,
la lavandière - the washer woman.  There is also a figurine called le ravi, meaning 'the delighted one', and he always has his arms raised to express his delight.
           Le Ravi
Everybody is welcoming the Baby Jesus.

NoelSome figurines are placed in la
crèche later than the others:- The figurine of Jesus is placed in His manger on Christmas Day.  The figurines of The Three Kings appear on the night of 5 January.

NoelIt is the tradition in France to display the Nativity scene until the 2 February - a date known as la Chandeleur
This date is forty days after Christmas Day.

La crèche.

NoelLa veille de Noël is Christmas Eve.  Le réveillon de Noël is Christmas Eve dinner and celebrations.  In the evening, French families eat a special meal to celebrate the very beginning of Christmas Day. 

                     Bon appétit!
NoelFrench children leave their shoes out in front of the fireplace in the hope that le Père Noël (Father Christmas) will fill them with treats and will place gifts on and around the Christmas tree (le sapin de Noël) for when they awake on Christmas morning. 

                  Noelle sapin de Noël

    Noel Christmas dinners often include:-
seafood - les fruits de mer
 oysters -
les huîtres
lobster - le homard
snails - les escargots
smoked salmon -
le saumon fumé
caviar - le caviar
duck or goose - le canard ou l'oie
turkey - la dinde
green beans - les haricots
cheese -  le fromage
For dessert there is usually a sponge and buttercream Christmas log called la bûche de Noël. 
French sparkling wine called
is drunk.

Photo of
la bûche de Noël.  The cake is decorated with Christmas figurines and meringue mushrooms.

NoelHere are some French Christmas proverbs:

Décembre trop beau, été dans l'eau.
If the weather in December is too nice,
the summer will be wet.

Noël neigeux, été merveilleux.
Snowy Christmas, wonderful summer.

Can you see and hear the French rhymes in these proverbs?

NoelHere are some more Christmas words:-
le jour de Noël - Christmas Day
la Nativité - The Nativity Scene
la crèche - the crib, the manger, or, The Nativity Scene
Marie et Joseph - Mary and Joseph
l'Enfant Jésus - The Baby Jesus
l'ange - the angel
l'étoile - the star
Bethléem - Bethlehem
l' âne - the donkey
le berger - the shepherd
les Rois Mages - The Three Kings
le chant de Noël - the Christmas carol
le soulier de Noël - the Christmas stocking  (The French words actually say 'the Christmas shoe.')

NoelNew Year's Eve is called la Saint-Sylvestre (Saint Sylvester's Day).  There is a special dinner in the evening called le réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre.  There are parties and presents too.  New Year gifts are called les étrennes.

NoelTo say 'Happy New Year' you say 'Bonne Année.'  This actually means 'Good Year.'

NoelAt midnight at New Year it is the custom to kiss under the mistletoe (le gui). In France, mistletoe is a New Year tradition. There is an old French saying:- 'Au gui l'an neuf.'  This means:- 'Mistletoe for the new year.'

Bonne Annee

NoelNew Year's Day is called le jour de l'An or Nouvel An.  Lots of people make a New Year Resolution.  This is called une bonne résolution de Nouvel An.
NoelThere are some traditional New Year songs in France.  One of them is sung to the same tune as Auld Lang Syne.  It is called Choral des Adieux.
traditional French songs
  NoelDuring the first days of January, a special cake is prepared called la galette des Rois (the Kings' cake).  The cake is officially eaten on 6 January in celebration of the journey of The Three Kings (les Rois Mages) who followed the star of Bethlehem, found the Baby Jesus (l'Enfant Jésus) and gave Him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  
In French these gifts are called or, encens et myrrhe. 

The special date of 6 January is called l' Épiphanie. 
The Kings' cake, la galette des Rois, is round and made of puff pastry.

Galette des rois  Galette des rois
 Miam-miam! C'est délicieux!

NoelInside la galette des Rois, a special trinket is hidden.  This trinket is called une fève - meaning 'a bean.' 
It used to be the tradition to find a 'dried bean' inside the cake but nowadays the trinkets can be anything from lucky horseshoes to little figurines.
You must be careful when eating the cake - just in case you bite into the hidden trinket and damage your teeth!

 NoelSo, the arrival of the Three Kings  at the stable in Bethlehem is celebrated on 6 January.  They are called les Rois Mages which is a way to say 'the magic kings'.  They used their magic powers of observing the stars and planets to look for special meanings and warnings.  It was the star of Bethlehem (l'étoile de Bethléem) that indicated to them the birth and location of a new King and for which they set out on their journey.

On 6 January, parties take place in France and the Kings' cake is served.  Usually a child hides under the table and shouts out the name of the next person to be served a slice of the cake.  When everyone has their piece of cake, it is then discovered who has won the trinket that was hidden inside. That person  becomes the 'king' or 'queen' of the party and wears a golden paper crown. 

                                 King Cake PartyJe suis très important!

Noel  The rule of the game is that the King (le roi) or Queen
(la reine) must buy or make the cake for the next party.
The Kings' cake parties are so popular that they often continue until the end of January!

NoelDuring the French Revolution the Kings' cake was not allowed to be called by that name. 
The word 'king' or roi was not very popular at that time in France, so the cake was re-named le gâteau de l'égalité, meaning:- 'the equality cake.'

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

Christmas Zone

French Zone