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15 French Christmas Traditions You Have to Try

15 French Christmas Traditions You Have to Try

Aga, an ExpatWoman living in France, is planning on celebrating Christmas the French way this year.

I am Pole and I will have some of the Polish Traditions involved but I want to experience and learn about Christmas in France. So far I have done my theoretical research and learnt about the top French Christmas traditions and symbols.


This is the four week lead up to Christmas. To get kids excited about upcoming Christmas, they get so called Advent calendar and they do cherish them each day...each day one ‘window/door of the Advent Calendar will be opened.


Le Réveillon

Better known as Christmas Eve to the rest of the world, it is the evening of December 24th. It is the time when French families sit down together to celebrate Christmas. This is a big feast and a very long one….it lasts for hours!

Midnight Mass

A church service which French people attend on the midnight of the Christmas Eve

Christmas Meal

This is very much dependent on the region but usually it include: smoked salmon and oysters with bran bread and butter. The foie gras (goose or duck liver pate) is very luxury and posh aperitifs. There is goose, capon or turkey stuffed with chestnuts and served with vegetables and potatoes. The traditional Christmas dessert is “La bûche de Noël” (Yule log).  During Christmas a very good wine is required and the Champagne is imperative.

SEE ALSO: French holidays and festivals

Les Treize Desserts

This is a Provençal tradition but worth mentioning  as it is very interesting. Apparently there are 13 desserts served after the Christmas feast? ‘13’ because they symbolise Christ and the 12 apostles. Everyone has to at least taste each dessert as this brings a good luck the year round.  Those desserts are fruits, nuts (dried figs, hazelnuts or walnuts, almonds and dried grapes) and sweets like a cake called Pompe à l’huile.

Table Decoration

The French find it important to have posh and elegant looking tables so French people decorate the tables carefully.  For the main meal they put on the table the three candlesticks, which represents the Trinity. What is interesting is that the ends of the tablecloth are knotted. This is to prevent the Devil to get under the table!

Les Cadeaux de Noël

The presents are brought by Père Noël during the Christmas Eve night and the French children open it on the morning Christmas Day. What is more, French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace so that Père Noël can find them and fill them with presents.

Le Père Fouettard

Father Spanker. This is a partner & helper of the Père Noël. He decides which kids have been good or bad behaving. He punishes the bad behaving ones with the he is the one who does the ‘spanking’.

A Papillote

This is a chocolate (or candied fruit) that is wrapped in golden sparking paper with fringed ends. There is a small note inside the wrapping. The sweets and its tradition comes from Lyon where they were created at the end of the 18th century. Nowadays they are essential element of Christmas tradition, sold massively in shops up to the Christmas


This is also popular and an important Christmas symbol for French. They hang it above the door during the Christmas season to assure the good luck & prosperity during the the next year

The Sapin de Noël

 French people decorate the Christmas tree before Christmas Day so it is ready for the Santa Claus!

Christmas Trees in France

Santons de Noël 

These are the little saints which fill the nativity crèche. Many French houses make sure to have the crèche during the Christmas.

La Fête des Rois  

This is  the 6th of January,  a day to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings. In some parts of France, there is a procession of the Three Kings. But the most famous thing associated with Epiphany in France is La Galette des Rois – the king’s cake! Usually consisting of  flaky puff pastry layers with a centre of frangipane or apple. The cakes are usually sold with the paper crown to crown the "king" who finds the fève - a small bean hidden in their piece of cake. Traditionally, it is the youngest person in the family to distribute the pieces of cake.

Chants de Noël

So there are not many traditional French Christmas carols. If there were any, these have been mainly hymns from the church. That is why many Christmas songs have been taken from UK, Germany etc. Over time, non-religious songs have been translated from different languages into French for example there is a French Jingle Bells - Vive le vent

Christmas Greetings

French people wish each other Joyeux Noël or Bonnes Fêtes. As simple as that! Moreover, you cannot wish anyone “Bonne Année” (Happy New Year) before midnight as this  brings bad luck! What is also very interesting is the fact that French people do not send Christmas cards but New Year cards!

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