Christmas in France: A Comprehensive Guide to the Festive Season

#Travel guide

Christmas in France (Noël en France) holds a special place in the hearts of French people. With its rich culture, delicious food, beautiful decorations and festive cheer, it's no wonder that the holiday season is eagerly anticipated all around the country each year. This guide will explore the traditions, celebrations, food, and more that make Christmas in France truly magical.

Traditions and Celebrations Christmas in France

The Christmas season kicks off in early December as twinkling lights and festive decorations start appearing along city streets and in homes across France. Some beloved French Christmas traditions include:

Advent Calendars and Candles

Many French families use Advent calendars or candles to count down the days until Christmas, opening little doors or lighting a new candle section each day. This builds excitement and anticipation on the lead up to the 25th.

Christmas Markets (Marchés de Noël)

Beautiful, bustling Christmas markets pop up in November and December where locals can shop for gifts and regional food and wine specialties. The markets in Strasbourg, Lille, and Paris are especially renowned.

Nativity Scenes

Intricate nativity scenes or "crèches de Noël", featuring figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, animals, shepherds, and the three wise men are displayed in homes, stores, and churches. Some towns hold nativity figurine expos or contests.

Christmas Eve Church Services (Messe de Minuit)

Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is still widely attended, with services full of beautiful Christmas carols and music.

Reveillon Dinner

The traditional French Christmas Eve feast called Réveillon is a multi-course celebration with special dishes like oysters, foie gras, lobster, and Bûche de Noël cake.

Christmas Day Lunch

The main Christmas meal is still held in the afternoon on December 25th, featuring favorites like turkey, chestnut stuffing, and Yule log. Families gather to exchange gifts afterwards.

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Delicious French cuisine plays a central role in Christmas celebrations across France. Here are some of the most popular holiday treats and drinks:

Bûche de Noël This festive Yule log cake shaped like a wood log is decorated with meringue mushrooms and sweet icing. It's the quintessential French Christmas dessert.

Foie Gras Extravagant foie gras pâté and terrines are Christmas dinner classics, often served with toasted baguette as an appetizer.

Oysters and Seafood French oysters, shrimp, lobster and salmon are holiday favorites, especially for the Réveillon feast. Look for seafood towers piled high on December 24th!

Chestnuts and Cheese Sweet chestnut stuffings, mont blancs, and roasted chestnuts are enjoyed alongside French holiday cheeses like brie and camembert.

Chocolates and Candy Luxury French chocolates like truffles make for perfect edible Christmas gifts, as do chocolate logs, Reindeer noses, and candy stuffed stockings.

Champagne and Fine Wines Fine bottles of French champagne, red wine and cognac are opened and shared for Réveillon toasts and throughout the Christmas season.

Traditional French Christmas Decorations

The French deck out their streets, stores and homes with beautiful Christmas lights and decorations to set a magical mood. Here are some of the most popular decorative elements:

Sparkling Lights

Strings of twinkling lights and illuminated stars are strung up along city streets and building facades, especially in Paris.

Wreaths and Garlands

Evergreen wreaths, pine garlands, and red bows adorn many doors and mantles across France. Some feature elaborate decorations.

Christmas Trees

Real pine or artificial Christmas trees are decorated with lights, garlands, ribbon, and ornaments, often in red, gold and green colors.

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Wood Crèches

Miniature nativity scenes crafted from wood or porcelain containing figurines of the holy family and animals are proudly displayed.

Poinsettias and Holly

Vibrant red poinsettia plants and sprigs of holly add festive botanical flair to French holiday décor.

Candles and Lanterns

For cozy ambiance, electric candles are arranged in windows alongside poinsettias, while lanterns line walkways. No matter where you travel in France come Christmas, you're guaranteed to encounter enchanting decorations and lights displaying French seasonal spirit.

Christmas in Provence and on the French Riviera

Christmas takes on delightful Mediterranean flair in sunny Provence and along the glittering French Riviera. Local traditions include:

13 Desserts In Provence, the traditional Christmas Eve "Gros Souper" feast concludes with 13 desserts representing Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Santons of Provence Clay figurines called santons representing nativity figures, villagers and regional personas are handcrafted and displayed in intricate miniature Provençal villages.

Cannes and Nice Lights The sparkling holiday lights displays along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and La Croisette in Cannes are spectacular.

Pastoral Crèches Elaborate nativity scenes featuring local terra cotta santons and replica Provençal villages are shone in Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence and across the region.

Seafood and Local Delicacies Coastal cities and towns enjoy festive Provençal dishes like sea bass, bouillabaisse, pan bagnat salad, and candied fruits. With their vibrant winter markets, illuminations, and Christmas parades, Provence and the Riviera certainly deliver seasonal magic with Mediterranean panache.

Top Places to Spend Christmas in France

During the most wonderful time of the year, these destinations around France make for especially enchanting holiday escapes:

Strasbourg

With its famous Christmas market in Strasbourg, magnificent cathedral, and charming old town all dressed up for Noël, the Alsatian capital is a top Christmas destination.

Paris

The legendary City of Light becomes even more luminous around Christmas. Seasonal delights like the Champs Elysées lights, Galeries Lafayette decorations and Marché de Noël treats await.

Lyon

Lyon's sparkling Festival of Lights coincides with holiday time, as do its tasty bouchon bistros and iconic Lyonnaise specialties like brioche and praline.

Loire Valley Châteaux

The Loire Valley takes on storybook splendor with its regal chateaux and villages adorned with wreaths, ribbons and lights. Don't miss dazzling displays at Chenonceau, Amboise and Blois.

Lille

With its quaint Flemish architecture, lively Christmas market packed with regional tasty and beers, and proximity to magical Belgian destinations, Lille is an excellent option. Wherever you spend the holidays in France, you're sure to be swept away by Noël magic! Joyeux Noël!

Frequently Asked Questions About Christmas in France

Looking to learn more Christmas traditions, celebrations and travel tips for France? Here are answers to 10 of the most frequently asked questions: 🎄 When does the Christmas season start in France? In France, the Christmas season kicks off in early December once elaborate light displays, festive markets, and decorations start appearing across the country. However, holiday anticipation begins to build even earlier!

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🎅 Do French children believe in Père Noël (Father Christmas)? Yes, Père Noël is the beloved French version of Santa Claus. French parents tell children that Père Noël brings presents on Christmas Eve for children who've been good all year.

🎁 When do French families exchange gifts? Most French families exchange réveillon gifts on Christmas Eve, followed by more present opening on Christmas Day after the big holiday lunch.

🍴 What time is the main Christmas dinner held in France? Instead of having a dinner, the major Christmas meal is traditionally held in midafternoon on December 25th, usually featuring dishes like turkey, chestnut stuffing, and yule log cake.

🥂 What drinks are popular for the réveillon Christmas Eve feast? It's customary to serve champagne, French wines and cognac during the multi-course réveillon dinner to make festive toasts before heading to midnight mass celebrations.

🛍 Are shops open in France on Christmas Day? No, just about all shops are closed across France on December 25th, aside from some smaller food stores that may open for a few hours. Be sure to get your holiday shopping done early!

🎄 When do French people take down their Christmas decor? Christmas trees and decorative lights typically stay up through the first week of January, culminating with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th which commemorates the three wise men's visit to baby Jesus.

✈️ Is France a popular Christmas travel destination? Definitely! Places like Paris, Strasbourg, and the French Riviera attract visitors from all over with their festive Christmas markets, illuminations, historical allure and holiday magic. Advance reservations are essential.

🎶 What are popular French Christmas songs? Classic French Noël songs include "Mon Beau Sapin", “Vive Le Vent”, "Petit Papa Noël", "Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes" ("Angels We Have Heard On High"), and "Minuit, Chrétiens" ("O Holy Night").

🎁 What traditional French gifts are given at Christmas? Popular French Christmas gifts include fine chocolates, perfumes, flowers, luxury goods, wines, Scarves/gloves, and classic Christmas decorations like ornaments and wreaths.

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People also ask:

Is Christmas a big holiday in France? Yes, Christmas is widely celebrated across France and a major part of French culture. Most businesses, shops and services close so French people can gather with family for festive meals, gift giving, midnight mass, and seasonal merriment.

When do Christmas holidays start in France? School holidays traditionally last two weeks over Christmas and New Year's in France, typically ranging anywhere between mid-December to early January, depending on term schedules. The time off allows families to travel and celebrate.

What do you say for Merry Christmas in French? "Joyeux Noël!" is the standard French phrase used to wish someone a Merry Christmas leading up to December 25th. You'll hear it exchanged across France during the holiday season.

Does France celebrate Advent like Germany? Yes, Advent wreaths and calendars are used in some French households to count down the four Sundays preceding Christmas, much like in Germany. However the observance isn't quite as widespread.

What Christmas songs do the French sing? Well-known French Christmas carols include "Mon Beau Sapin", "Vive Le Vent", "Petit Papa Noël" and classic French renditions of songs like “O Holy Night”, “Angels We Have Heard on High” and even Jingle Bells (which they call "Vive le vent"). I hope you've enjoyed this detailed Christmas in France guide! Please let me know if you have any other questions. Joyeuses fêtes!

Christmas Markets and Events Around France

In the lead-up to Noël, France hosts delightful Christmas markets and festive events that are certainly worth experiencing firsthand:

Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik Dating back to 1570, Strasbourg holds the oldest Christmas market in France. Spread out over several plazas, it offers Alsatian crafts, ornaments, gifts, food and wine alongside a 30-meter tree.

Disneyland Paris Christmas Season Disneyland Paris is transformed into a winter wonderland from November to early January, with special shows, parades and photo ops with Disney characters dressed in their Christmas best.

Lyon Festival of Lights Every December, spectacular light shows, installations and illuminated building façades illuminate Lyon during this massive festival coinciding with the holiday season.

Nice Carnaval du Nice Noël Nice on the French Riviera celebrates Christmas with a huge carnival parade featuring elaborate floats and performers officiated by carnival royalty—the king and queen of the event.

Champs Elysées & Galleries Lafayette Christmas Lights The world-famous avenue and department store both dazzle Paris (and the world) with incredible Christmas lights displays and animated holiday window displays.

Salon du Chocolat in Paris From late October through Christmas, chocolate makers from around France and the world unveil their newest creations at this grand chocolate fair in Paris. It perfectly aligns with the holidays! Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Key French Vocabulary Here are some key words and phrases to help you enjoy a "Joyeux Noël" while spending Christmas in France: Noël = Christmas Réveillon = Christmas Eve celebration dinner Père Noël = Father Christmas/Santa Claus Sapin de Noël = Christmas Tree Village de Noël = Christmas market village Vitrine de Noël = Christmas shop window display Messes de minuit - Midnight Christmas masses Cadeaux de Noël = Christmas gifts Bûche de Noël = Yule log cake Crèche = Nativity scene Chants de Noël = Christmas songs/carols Lumières de Noël = Christmas lights Marché de Noël = Christmas market Joyeux Noël = Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Travel Tips for France

If you plan on spending Christmas in France, these travel tips will enhance your trip: ⛄️ Book Accommodations Early! Hotels fill fast over Christmas holidays in France. Also reserve Christmas Eve restaurant tables well in advance. 🚆 transportation like trains and flights should be booked 1-2 months early as availability gets limited. 🎁 Bring Gifts! It’s polite to bring a small gift of chocolates, wine, or souvenirs if invited to a French Christmas meal. 🚘 Rent a Car for Flexibility. Public transit options can be limited on Christmas Day and it’s easier to reach charming towns. 💶 Have Cash on Hand. Many small stores and Christmas markets may not accept credit cards. ATMs also have limited holiday hours. 🧳 Pack Layers! French winters can get quite cold. Be sure to bring a heavy winter coat, scarf, gloves and warm layers.

Stay warm, well fed and joyful this Christmas season with a wonderfully French holiday! Please let me know if you need any other travel tips or have additional questions on spending Christmas in France.

Valery Lezhebokov
Changing travel industry with AI.