Believe it or not, different regions of France celebrate Christmas on different days or rather start celebrating on different days during the month of December.
Dates of French Christmas Celebrations:
• Majority of the province celebrate Christmas on 25th of December like the rest of the world.
• In Eastern and Northern France, the Christmas season begins with St. Nicholas Day which is December 6th - this marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
• For some religious families, the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which are the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
• In Lyon, the people begin celebrating this season with the Festival of Light on December 8th, by lighting candles in their window sills for Virgin Mary.
The Christmas season lasts throughout December and carries on until Epiphany.
Traditions in France on Christmas:There are certain customs and traditions that are unique to Christmas and France has its own bountiful share of such traditions. These tradition though may be similar to the ones in other parts of Europe, there are some that are exclusive to regions of France.
• French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas eve, hoping that Père Noël (aka Baby Jesus) will fill them with gifts, candies and toys.
• Gifts are shared on December 6th by the children of France, where they believe that St.Nicholas showers them toys and other gifts.
• Putting up a Christmas Tree - This is a recent and a not so popular tradition in France, though it is steadily gaining popularity.
• In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year s Day. This is based on the ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year s harvest.
• Nativity Scene or Crèche -Almost every home in France is decorated with the Nativity scene which depicts the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. They are done with clay figurines that are vibrantly colorful and has breathtaking craftsmanship.
• Le Reveillon - It is the late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The name of the feast is based on the word réveil which means "waking" where people celebrate by staying awake until midnight and further. This supper is symbolic to the celebration of the birth of Jesus and is celebrated with culinary assortment. An ostentatious banquet is held where cuisine of wide variety.
• Midnight mass in Churches - A tradition staunchly followed by the conservative Catholics in France.
• Singing Christmas carols.
Christmas Feasts in France - Le Reveillon
The South Eastern France version of Le Reveillon includes 13 desserts that are served after mass. Numbers are of great important in these meals as they have a religious significance. Trinkets and cutleries that adorn the table are placed in 3s signifying the Holy Trinity. Before the mass Le Gros Souper is served. It consists of 7 dishes, ranging from simple vegetable dishes to a huge variety of poultry, snails and omelet s. After mass, "Les treize desserts" are set out.
Different desserts can be prepared on this day depending on the region. But mostly they include dry Figs, Almonds, Raisins, Hazelnuts and Dates. Also Black Nougat and White Nougat symbolizing the two forces; Good and Evil are also served. Fruits are also added to the list of Desserts. An olive oil and orange flavored bread called "La pompe a L huile" is also a part of the tradition. It is a custom to sample each of these 13 desserts that are served during the supper.
One of the desserts served during this feast is a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the Buche de Nol are made during the Christmas season in France. Buche de Nol, "Christmas Log" is served due to its association to the celebration. The French are famous for their Wine and Cognac so obviously this along with Champagne are the chosen accompaniment for the elaborate and scrumptious supper.
French Christmas Decorations:
• Nativity scene - With figurines.
• Wreaths - Made of Red Berry, Pine cones, twigs, Willow, Clematis, Douglas Fir and flowers of all kinds are present during this season are used for decorating.
• Mistletoes - They are put up throughout the house.
• Christmas Tree - Decorated with ornaments like French Fleur, gleaming tinsels, flashing Fairy lights and crowned with a star on top.