The holiday season is beginning in France already! With the absence of a holiday between Halloween and Christmas, like Thanksgiving in the United States, the French are free to dive straight into all the sparkle and traditions of the season. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite French holiday traditions to share with you today, in preparation for the festivities and to add a little French touch to your own holiday traditions.
6 French Holiday Traditions
Calendrier d’Avent: The Advent calender is one of the most ubiquitous French holiday traditions. Once primarily a sweets-based tradition with chocolate or candies behind each door of the calender, it’s evolved to be just as fun for adults as it is for children, with beauty brands like La Mer and food brands like Bonne Maman releasing their editions in plenty of time for the first door to be opened on December 1st and provide little treats throughout the holiday season. The craziest one we’ve seen? This one from Tiffany & Co!
Decorations: Christmas trees, garlands, twinkly lights, oh my! From tastefully minimal to downright disco-ball-esque, France, and especially Paris, finds a way to combat the darkness of the long winter months with festive decorations. The window displays, or vitrines, at the big department stores are inaugurated each year with celebrity guests and TV coverage, as well as those on the Champs-Elysées. Our personal favorites are found in the vicinity of the rue Royale- you can see some photos of last year’s by clicking HERE.
Marchés de Noël: Starting around the end of November, Christmas markets begin popping up all over France. Particularly popular in Alsace, as this region was once part of Germany where Christmas markets originated, France has fully adopted this tradition as their own. Markets in different regions sell the regional specialties, and celebrate in their own unique ways while still maintaining the quintessential Christmas market feel.
La crèche: Nativity scenes are a holiday staple in most Christian French households. Depending on the amount of space available to set it up, the Nativity scene can be very large, with pieces inherited from grandparents or great-grandparents, or small enough to fit into an apartment. Families in Provence, however, take theirs to the next level- new figurines, called santons, can be added to the crèche every year, representing different townspeople, including bakers, farmers and often even animals!
La buche de Noël: The Yule log cake is another long-standing tradition, like the Advent calender, which has been taken to new heights in recent years. Named for the actual Yule log that families burned in their homes during the 12 days of Christmas, this holiday treat is most commonly made of sponge cake and buttercream frosting, with a variety of different decorations on top. Master patissiers around France now create elaborate flavor pairings and decorations for shops like Ladurée and hotels like the Ritz. You can find a recipe to make your own HERE!
Réveillon: The big Christmas meal in France doesn’t take place on Christmas Day, but on Christmas Eve, and is known as le Réveillon. This is also the day on which gifts are traditionally exchanged, rather than opening them on Christmas morning. During this meal, you might eat oysters, foie gras, escargots as a starter, some kind of bird as the main dish, and the Yule log for dessert. In Provence, it’s tradition to have 13 different desserts, and one must eat a bit of each to ensure good luck in the year to come!
Galette des rois: While the New Year isn’t welcomed with as much fanfare in France as in other countries- most people celebrate at home with family or friends, and even major cities like Paris don’t have a fireworks display- the fun isn’t over yet after the calendar turns the page! The galette des rois, or king’s cake, is eaten on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. They’re available in different sizes (and sometimes even flavors!) in boulangeries, and many are sold with a crown. Whoever finds the fève, or charm, inside their piece of cake, gets to wear the crown and be king or queen for the day. The perfect way to start a new year, in our opinion!
Have you ever celebrated the holidays in France? Which is your favorite tradition?