French Christmas Traditions

by blackspanielgallery

The French Christmas celebration is different, and includes perhaps the most lavish meal compared with Christmas meals elsewhere. Another difference includes using santons.

Christmas in France is celebrated, but it is less about decorating and shopping than it is elsewhere. Instead, it is more about the joy of the season, giving, and family. This is not to say that there are no decorations, for some rather lavish displays of the seasonal décor can be found. This is especially true at large stores. And Christmas carols can be heard as they are sung.

The introduction is one of our own Zazzle Christmas ornaments.

Joyeaux Noel

Every language has its own words for Christmas, and in France one might hear the words “joyeaux Noel.”  This is to wish a joyous, or merry Christmas.  

The Christmas Tree

The French do use Christmas trees.  In France the Christmas tree is a place to hang the gifts on Christmas Eve, and whatever other treats are being set out for the Children to find.


If one were to be looking at French culture, there are some very nice Christmas ornaments that just say France.  The Eiffel Tower is one popular ornament design, and some quality pieces depicting the Eiffel Tower can be found.  In fact, there are a multitude of sizes from which to choose, so pick one to fit in with your other ornaments.  And, of course there are Pere Noel ornaments.


Pere Noel

Or, Papa Noel

Pere Noel, or Papa Noel, is the French version of Santa Claus, and he traditionally brings the gifts.


The French heritage in Louisiana makes Papa Noel a well known figure, although he is often riding a pirogue and driving alligators.  We have twisted the French tradition somewhat.

Le Reveillion

The Great Meal

Le Reveillion is an elaborate dinner eaten after Midnight Mass early Christmas.  It is a full meal, and may be exceptional in what it contains.  But, it will be a full menu, and will be filled with quality food.  And, of course, quality wine or champagne is a must.  In the video a large piece of beef is wrapped with dough and cooked for the meal.  One menu item that is mentioned as a popular food over Christmas time, and is also mentioned by Wikipedia as a Le Reveillion dish, is oysters.  And, Wikipedia shows the extent of the elegance of the meal when lobster is identified as a possible appetizer.


This meal is so special that restaurants stay open through the night for those not dining at a home.


In New Orleans the French heritage is so strong that Le Reveillion meals are prepared by several large French restaurants over several days as we get close to Christmas.

Gift Giving

In the Rick Steves video it is shown how the French handle Christmas shopping.  The emphasis is on one quality piece, not a multitude of lower end items.  The French give gifts the recipient might otherwise deem too expensive, and that can make the gift very special. 

Christmas in France

Rick Steves

Christmas in Burgundy

In the video by Rick Steves, the French in Burgundy, a religious section of the country, make the idea of taking care of others a priority.  The elderly receive gifts from neighbors.  In the video it is apparent the gifts are not without value.  In the example shown a gift basket, and a bottle of wine, are presented to a neighbor.  It was not a basket or a bottle, it was both.

Nativity Sets and Santons

In France, Nativity scenes, or crèches filled with the normal figures of a Nativity set.  In some areas, such as Burgundy, the crèche will also contain the family santons.  Santons are figures that represent people of today in their normal occupations.  One family might have a baker santon, another a nurse santon, and so on.  This makes the Nativity more relevant today, and the santon reflects on the nature of the family.  Hence, each family crèche is unique to that family.

The Window Candle

In France it is likely a candle will burn in the window of a home on Christmas Eve.  I recommend an electric version of the candle for safety. 


In Louisiana there are huge bonfires along the Mississippi River levee, lighting the way for Papa Noel.  I can see how the candle has been transformed into bonfires. 


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Updated: 12/03/2019, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 09/01/2015

The French do know how to set a full table.

CruiseReady on 09/01/2015

Oh boy, do I like the idea of oysters at Christmas dinner. Yum! We usually have some smoked ones for appetizers, along with cheese, nuts, and olives.

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