It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes, and while this year hasn’t been the easiest for any of us, I hope you’ll still be able to spread some Christmas cheer as the year winds down.
Speaking of Christmas, have you celebrated Christmas in France among the French? If so, you’ve probably noticed some Christmas traditions that are different from the way we do it in the USA. Here are 7 fun facts about Christmas in France versus the U.S.
7 Fun facts about Christmas in France vs America
Any celebration is a good celebration and I can’t get enough. Over the years, I’ve loved learning about how Christmas in France is done. I still learn about new traditions, different Christmas shopping habits, foods, and words with each passing year.
Christmas for us is a blend of French and American traditions, and while we do try to visit the USA around the holiday season (usually Thanksgiving), Christmas and New Year’s are usually spent in France with Tom’s family. We all celebrated several years ago in Brittany though when my parents came and that was really nice.
Get your French holiday foods from MyPanier >>
OK, here are 7 fun facts about Christmas in France vs America that you might not know about:
1. Santa Claus is called le Père Noël. Yup, he’s literally called Father Christmas in French and not any variation of the word Santa. But he is the same jolly bearded guy we know and love — just goes by a different name in France. FYI, the word for Christmas in France is Noël.
2. Kids leave goodies for le Père Noël in slippers or shoes on Christmas Eve. In the U.S., kids generally leave out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa and have stockings hung above the fireplace. In France, it’s all about the slippers and there’s no cookies and milk left out for Santa.
French kids will leave their shoes by the fireplace in the hopes that the Père Noël will leave them little candies and trinkets. Another difference is when the presents are opened. The presents are usually opened after dinner or after the Christmas Eve mass, not Christmas Day morning like we often do in the U.S. Traditionally in France, the Père Noël comes when everyone is at church and not during the night leading into Christmas Day. This can depend on the family and kids’ ages, though.
Made in France gifts you’ll love (that are on Amazon!) >>
3. The main event is Christmas Eve dinner. The French take mealtime seriously and the Christmas Eve meal is usually long, elaborate, and generally starts later than dinner in the USA. This is also when French kids open presents, as noted above. Festive French foods take center stage and a chapon (capon) or even turkey are popular main course choices.
Many families focus on the seafood on Christmas Eve and opt for a meat dish on Christmas Day. That’s what we’re doing this year at Tom’s parents’ house. FYI, Christmas Eve is called le Réveillon, which comes from the French verb réveiller, to wake up or revive. The meal often finishes with a traditional bûche de noël, or Yule Log, for dessert.
I made a video on my YouTube channel tasting 4 different kinds of bûchettes, so check it out!
4. The French love foie gras, oysters, and smoked salmon on Christmas Eve. It’s all about the food! In the USA, Christmas might be all about the presents or the decor or the parties. In France, the focus is on the food and it’s for good reason. There’s no shortage of delicious salmon, foie gras, and oysters at the supermarket and farmers’ markets.
If you don’t feel like cooking, specialty delis/caterers called traiteurs have nice options as well. P.S. When it comes to soup, don’t make this faux pas like we almost did when my parents and in-laws celebrated together!
For more French food fun, check out my YouTube video where I take you to a French grocery store at Christmastime. You’ll learn more fun facts about Christmas in France.
5. The big sales are after the holidays. If you want to get a deal and save some money on your Christmas gifts, don’t expect to find that in France. While some stores might have promos here and there, it’s nowhere near like it is in the USA where a majority of stores have major money-saving sales from Black Friday all the way up to Christmas.
France has two major sales periods per year that are mandated by law called les soldes. To shoppers’ dismay, they come after Christmas and New Year’s and run in January. This year, the winter sales kick off on January 20 in mainland France.
6. New Year’s cards are the norm. Unlike the U.S. where it’s common to send out holiday cards to your friends and family in December, the French send out Happy New Year (bonne année) cards after Christmas instead. That’s not to say that you won’t find Christmas cards or that no one does it, but it’s more common among the French to do Happy New Year cards. Common phrasing you’ll see on them is bonne année et meilleurs voeux, which means Happy New Year and best wishes!
7. Hanukkah isn’t big at all. You won’t see menorahs or dreidel decorations at the grocery store in France, nor will you see menorahs in store windows or really any reference to the Jewish holiday at all. It actually surprised me to learn that after Israel and the US, that France has the highest population of Jewish.
In my experience, it’s mostly invisible unless you’re in the Marais area of Paris and other big cities. I am not sure how they measure that stat since the national census doesn’t ask for personal information such as religious affiliation. The Jewish community does celebrate Hanukkah, la Hanoucca, and it exists in France, but it’s not mainstream in terms of knowledge or visibility like it is in many areas of the USA.
Have you celebrated Christmas in France? What differences did you notice between Christmas in France and your home country? Hope you enjoyed my list of fun facts about Christmas in France.
Wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!
“Santa Claus is called le Père Noël. Yup, he’s literally called Father Christmas in French and not any variation of the word Santa.” : Of course, cuz it’s not the same guy. Father Christmas (Père Noël) comes …. at Christmas (on the 24th-25th), whereas the original Santa Claus comes on the 6th (Sint Niklaas). A small part of France still celebrates Saint-Nicolas (departments along the Belgian, Lux and German borders).
Aussie Jo says
How interesting , I like reading what other countries do
I love Réveillon but still can’t get out of the habit of celebrating on the 25th so I do both now I’m in France. I mix my British tradition with the French. We have Christmas crackers and our French friends now love this. I still do Xmas cards. Have noticed that my friend’s grandchildren have started to leave milk and pain ‘d’epice for Père Noël and the reindeer help themselves to carrots from the potager. Happy Xmas to you and yours.
Aww, love the mix of traditions.
Hope you had a great celebration!
Lily Fang says
Merry Christmas, Diane! This was a really interesting and informative post. I spent Christmas with a French family when I studied abroad, and I remember them opening presents on Christmas Eve as well. Hope you had a nice Christmas and had many delicious French desserts 🙂
Thanks so much, Lily! So glad you enjoyed the post and hope you had a nice Christmas too!! Many desserts were had here. YUM
Lara Morrow says
This is so interesting. I love France and learning about the culture. I haven’t studied the Christmas traditions much so this was great to read. I found you on YouTube the day after Christmas when I was looking for things to cheer me up and get my mind off the holidays without family. Thank you for working so hard to bring such great content here and on YouTube.
Welcome, Lara! Thanks for checking out the blog. SO happy you enjoy my content.
We have Christmas crackers and our French friends now love this. I still do Xmas cards. I love France and learning about culture. I haven’t studied the Christmas traditions much so this was great to read. I found you on YouTube the day after Christmas when I was looking for things to cheer me up and get my mind off the holidays without family. Wish you a Merry Christmas and may this festival bring abundant joy and happiness in your life.
So glad you found me, Lisa!
Lisa Cole says
Interesting post. I’m an American whose lived in the UK for 12 years and every Christmas I think about US vs UK traditions. Christmas in Europe seems more special in an understated way. They don’t go as crazy with lights on their homes but the markets, treats, and traditions makes Christmas all the more a special time of year. The buches taste testing reminds me of mince pies in England as every year they seem to mix traditional with new flavours like salted caramel. The Hanukkah thing is so true for the UK as well – my husband looks at me funny when I mention it!
Some of your videos popped up on my YouTube so I look forward to getting some tips about France. I only ever seem to get to Paris when I’ve been.