In France, Christmas is a time for family and for generosity, marked by family reunions, gifts, and candy for children, gifts for the poor, Midnight Mass, and le Reveillon.
The celebration of Christmas in France, like other places, varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Christmas on December 25th, which is a bank holiday as well. However, in eastern and northern France, the Christmas season begins on December 6, with la fete de Saint Nicolas. In Lyon, December 8 is la Fete de lumieres, which is when Lyonnais pay homage to the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows to light up the city.
French Christmas traditions include children putting their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Pere Noel (aka Papa Noel) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the trees overnight. In some regions, there’s also Pere Fouettard who gives out spanking to the bad children (which is equivalent to Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty). In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would be responded to with a postcard.
While fewer and fewer French attend la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. It is followed by a huge feast, called le Reveillon (from the verb reveiller, which means to wake up or to revive). Le Reveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth and is the culinary high point of the season, which is often enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or café that is open all night. Traditional dishes included goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, oysters, and boudin blanc.
Overall, France is a truly magical place to be during the holidays. The gorgeous scenery and decorations, coupled with the history and architecture, make it a unique and breathtaking place to spend the holidays.