France is known for its rich culture, fine cuisine, and historical landmarks. During Christmas, these elements blend beautifully to create a festive atmosphere that is uniquely French. Let’s delve into the various traditions that make Christmas in France a magical experience. But firstly, you must know months in French to celebrate these occasions to the fullest.

Explore French Christmas traditions

Exploring French Christmas traditions

It is essential to become good at French if you want to enjoy their culture and traditions.  From Christmas markets to incredible decorations, this occasion is full of surprises and sweet treats.

Advent and Christmas markets

The Christmas season in France kicks off with Advent. Advent calendars (calendriers de l’Avent) are popular among children, who open a new door each day from December 1st to 24th, often revealing chocolates or small toys.

Christmas markets (marchés de Noël) are a cherished tradition, with the most famous ones located in Strasbourg, Colmar, and Paris. These markets date back to the Middle Ages and are characterized by wooden stalls selling artisanal crafts, festive decorations, and delicious treats like gingerbread and mulled wine. Strasbourg, often called the “Capital of Christmas,” boasts one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Europe, attracting millions of visitors each year.

Festive decorations

French homes and streets come alive with decorations during the holiday season. The centerpiece of home décor is the Christmas tree (sapin de Noël), often adorned with tinsel, lights, and ornaments. In some regions, particularly Provence, nativity scenes (crèches) play a significant role. These crèches are elaborate displays featuring not just the Holy Family, but also an array of Provençal characters, such as shepherds, farmers, and bakers, known as santons (little saints).

Theysées and other major avenues are lightened in Paris win Paris ith stunning light displays. Department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps compete for the most spectacular window displays, attracting locals and tourists alike.

Saint Nicholas Day

On December 6th, the Feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated in northeastern France, particularly in Alsace and Lorraine. Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, brings gifts to well-behaved kids. The night before, children leave their shoes by the fireplace, hoping to find them filled with treats like chocolates, fruits, and nuts the following day. Naughty children might find a bundle of twigs instead, left by Père Fouettard, a companion of Saint Nicholas.

Réveillon and Le Gros Souper

The highlight of the French Christmas celebration is the Réveillon, a lavish feast enjoyed on Christmas Eve. The meal can last for several hours and typically includes multiple courses. Popular dishes include foie gras, oysters, escargots, and various cheeses. The main course often features roast turkey, goose, or capon, accompanied by seasonal vegetables.

In Provence, a special version of the Réveillon called Le Gros Souper is served. This meal traditionally consists of seven meatless dishes, signifying the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary, followed by thirteen desserts representing Jesus and his twelve apostles. These desserts include dried fruits, nougat, and a sweet bread called pompe à l’huile.

People exchange gifts at Christmas

Midnight mass

Following the Réveillon, many families attend Midnight Mass (Messe de Minuit) to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Churches across France are beautifully decorated, and the services often feature choirs singing Christmas carols. In some rural areas, after the mass, parishioners share a hot drink or a slice of cake in the churchyard, continuing the festive spirit late into the night.

Père Noël and gifts

In France, Santa Claus is known as Père Noël. He delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve, which are typically opened the following day. Children often leave their shoes by the fireplace or under the tree for Père Noël to fill with gifts. In some regions, particularly in the east, children also receive gifts on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th.

Santa claus

La Galette des Rois

While not strictly a Christmas tradition, the celebration of Epiphany on January 6th is closely linked to the holiday season in France. The highlight of this day is the Galette des Rois, a puff pastry cake filled with almond cream. A small figurine, a fève, is hidden inside the cake. The person who finds the fève in their slice is crowned king or queen for the day and gets to wear a paper crown that comes with the cake.

New Year’s Eve and La Fête des Rois

New Year’s Eve, known as La Saint-Sylvestre, is another occasion for a festive meal, often including champagne and dancing. In some regions, the celebrations extend to La Fête des Rois (The Feast of Kings) on January 6th, which marks the end of the Christmas season.

Some regional variations

France’s diverse regions each bring their own unique customs to the Christmas celebration:

Alsace: Besides the famous Christmas markets, Alsace is known for its beautifully decorated houses and streets. Gingerbread cookies and mulled wine are staples, and traditional dishes like choucroute (sauerkraut) and baeckeoffe (a meat and potato stew) are popular during the holiday season.

Provence: The tradition of the thirteen desserts is a significant part of Christmas in Provence. Additionally, the Provençal crèche scenes are more elaborate, often including entire village settings with detailed santons.

Brittany: In Brittany, the Yule log (bûche de Noël) is traditionally made from a piece of wood and is burned in the fireplace. The ashes are then kept for good luck throughout the year.

Christmas culinary delights

French cuisine shines during the Christmas season. Beyond the Réveillon feast, various treats and specialties make their appearance:

Bûche de Noël: This traditional Yule log cake, often made of sponge cake and buttercream, is shaped and decorated to resemble a wooden log. It’s a beloved dessert throughout France during Christmas.

Foie Gras: A luxury delicacy made from the liver of a specially fattened duck or goose, foie gras is often served as a starter during Christmas meals, typically with fig or onion chutney.

Oysters and seafood: Seafood platters, including oysters, shrimp, and lobster, are common at Christmas feasts, particularly in coastal regions.

Cheese and wine: No French meal is complete without a selection of cheeses and fine wine. Christmas is no exception, with families enjoying a variety of local cheeses and celebratory wines, including champagne.

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Frequently asked questions

When do French Christmas celebrations typically begin?

French Christmas celebrations typically begin with Advent, starting on December 1st. Many traditions, such as opening Advent calendars and visiting Christmas markets, take place throughout December.

What are French Christmas markets like?

French Christmas markets (marchés de Noël) are festive events featuring wooden stalls selling artisanal crafts, holiday decorations, and delicious treats like mulled wine, gingerbread, and roasted chestnuts. Strasbourg, Colmar, and Paris host some of the most famous markets.

What is the Réveillon?

The Réveillon is a lavish feast enjoyed on Christmas Eve. It includes multiple courses featuring delicacies like foie gras, oysters, escargots, roast meats, and a variety of cheeses. The meal can last for several hours and often precedes attending Midnight Mass.


Christmas in France is a time of joy, family, and tradition. From the bustling Christmas markets and beautifully decorated homes to the elaborate meals and Midnight Mass, the French have a wealth of customs that make the holiday season special. Whether you’re exploring the festive streets of Paris or savoring the local traditions of Provence, celebrating Christmas in France offers a truly enchanting experience.

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