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: French Culture. Traditions and Customs

7West-Kazakhstan State University named after M. Utemissov

Course work

Report on the theme:

French Culture. Traditions and Customs

Uralsk, 2011

The Plan

Customs and Traditions in France

Culture of France

Social customs in France

Traditions and habits

Kissing in France

Eating & Drinking in France

Vous & Tu

French Wedding Traditions

French Easter Traditions

French Christmas Traditions

The more you learn about French traditions and culture, the more you will want to learn. France has a long and varied history to draw upon, and countless legends and customs have been passed from generation to generation. In addition, each region of France is quite unique and proudly boasts its own version of French culture. Learning about these cultural traditions is a richly rewarding endeavour and just pure fun.

It should come as no surprise that in a country so reputed for its gastronomical know-how that many traditions and customs in France center around food. If you are planning a trip to France, or just taking a vacation in your dreams, I hope you will partake of the incredible and edible experience that is offered by France for our enjoyment.

New Year's Eve in France

Many people in France ring in the New Year with a special meal. This is sometimes prepared at home for friends, but you will also find elaborate meals and dancing (les soires dansantes) at many restaurants

History of French Fries

This is one "French" tradition you'll find all over the world. Learn about the controversy over who invented the French fry, as well a bit about Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, the man behind the potato's acceptance in Europe.

Mardi Gras in France

The period leading up to Lent is celebrated in France, as it is in many places in the world, with much merry-making and fanfare. Learn about some of the French traditions in Guyane, an overseas department of France in South America.

French Yule Log

This is a wonderful French custom going back many, many centuries. The modern day take on the buche de Nol is usually a sweet cake, and included here is a simple recipe along with the story of this custom.

French Table Setting

If you are invited to a formal French dinner, it is a good idea to know a little on this subject. Although you will find most things where you are probably used to seeing them, there are some differences in how the French set the table from other places in the world. In French Eating Customs you can learn the hours and names of typical French meals.

French Celebrations

Bastille Day is probably the best known of the uniquely French holidays, but it certainly isn't the only chance to celebrate in France. Indeed, celebrations take place throughout the year and one is never far off from an excuse to pop open a bottle of champagne

french culture france tradition

Customs and Traditions in France

France is renowned for its culture. There are many gems and jewels scattered in French literature that have found their place even in the world literature. The French supremacy in all the branches of art is the reason why culture of France is so highly revered all across Europe and the world. The cuisine of France is truly a treat for the olfactory senses. France travel guide provides you with all the necessary information to help you get the maximum out of your vacation. But before you hop on board an airliner, there are certain essential things you need to know. The French attach much value to their customs and traditions. Etiquette in France is quite elaborate and formal. It is customary to greet anyone with a warm handshake. The French extend this courtesy to even their colleagues. It is quite common a practice to shake hands while leaving the office. Both men and women hug each other as a mark of good acquaintance. The dining etiquette too needs to be properly followed to avoid any embarrassment in the public. The French, while dining, keep their arms on the table. One essential point, you should always greet a stranger with Monsieur (for male) and Madame (for the fairer sex). Follow these customs and traditions in France to stop raising eyebrows.

Curious it may sound; the French literally behead champagne bottles at weddings. A specially made saber is used to behead the bottle. This tradition is said to have generated during Napoleonic times when champagne bottles were beheaded to celebrate victory. Holiday season, which kicks off with Christmas, sees many old customs and traditions in France being followed with a renewed vigor. Family members and friends join in the late Christmas Dinner after the holy Christmas Mass. Roasted turkey is the most common item on the menu. As the custom has it, Church bells do not ring on Thursday prior to the Good Friday. The bells ring again on Easter Sunday.

Customs and traditions in France is inseparably linked with 14th of July, the day when Bastille Fort was overrun by the French proletariats. To commemorate the end of the much-hated French Monarchy, parades and dancing in the streets are organized.

Culture of France

France connotes different meanings to different people. While some associate France with romanticism and aesthetic beauty; others link arts and culture with the country. France in fact is a citadel of the Western culture. French Revolution taught the world the concepts of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The writings of noted French writers like Charles Baudelaire and philosophers like Voltaire and others have left indelible marks on the thinking of not just their contemporaries but to the new age people as well. Thanks to the genius of the French writers, world literature has been enriched with immortal writings like "The Count of Monte Cristo", "Don Quixote", "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea" and many more. Arts and crafts of France has further been enriched by the contribution of famous film directors like Jean Luc Godard, Alan Resnais. Read on France travel guide to get a view in a nutshell of the culture of France.

French architecture is actually an offshoot of the Gothic architecture. The architectural style evolved dynamically, with the previous Baroque style being replaced by the Gothic style. Even Gothic style of architecture was later phased out and the avant-garde style took its place. Notable examples of the architecture of France are Eifel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame de Chartres and many more. These important architectural examples have contributed in forming a vibrant culture of France.

Cuisine of France is as varied as the country itself. Different regions specialize in different cuisines. Though ingredients differ, with northwest France uses more of butter, cream and apples and southwest France makes more use of pork fat, duck fat, mushrooms and gizzards; the taste too differs considerably.

Though there is no official state religion in France, Christianity is mostly practiced. Music and dance of France equally catches attention of other people. All these factors have enriched culture of France.

France Festivals & Events

France has always been the cynosure of Europe, be it art and architecture, or food and fashion. The country is always bustling with one hot activity, festival or event after another. It is a hard task to narrow down the innumerable activities down to one page. A few of the festivals and events in France have with time become a part of the culture of France. If you are a leisure tourist looking forward to a great time in the country, it is advisable to note beforehand the France festivals and events, forming a part of France travel guide. Here is a brief summary to some of the notable France festivals and events.

Christened the most delectable competition in the world, Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie or World Pastry Cup in France brings together 66 of the world's top pastry chefs from 22 countries in a display guaranteed to provide ample excitement to your taste buds. Each country is represented by a pastry-cook, a chocolate maker and an ice-cream maker, who have nine hours to prepare chocolate dessert, a fruit and ice-cream dessert presented on an ice sculpture base, and a typical plate dessert from their. The pieces are then be marked for their taste and artistic quality by a panel of international judges.

Launch of the Beaujolais Nouveau in France is another of the famous France festivals and events, which celebrates the official release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine on the third Thursday in November of every year, a significant date among wine tasters all over the world.

For one night only the numerous museums and attractions of the country participate in Museums by Night in France, which means they remain open long past usual hours and offer admission for free. You can spend the days sightseeing and the nights visiting the museums at no charge.

Armistice Day in France or Jour de l'Armistice de 1918 is a public holiday to commemorate the end of World War I. It is also a day of remembrance for the many people who have lay down their lives in the many wars since.

The main France festivals and events are

Armistice Day in France - Music Festival in France - Semaine du Gout (Week of the Taste) in France - The Fete du Nautisme in France - Museums by Night in France - Launch of the Beaujolais Nouveau in France - World Pastry Cup in France

If you are lucky enough to visit the country during some exciting event like the Fete du Nautisme or Semaine du Gout (Week of the Taste), you are in for a magnificent treat.

Social customs in France

Traditions and habits

All countries have peculiar social customs and France is no exception. As a foreigner you will probably be excused if you accidentally insult your hosts, but it’s better to be aware of accepted taboos and courtesies, especially as the French are much more formal than most foreigners (especially Americans and Britons) imagine.

When you’re introduced to a French person, you should say ‘good day, Sir/Madam’ (bonjour madame/ monsieur) and shake hands (a single pump is enough - neither limp nor knuckle-crushing). Salut (hi or hello) is used only among close friends and young people. When saying goodbye, it’s a formal custom to shake hands again. In an office, everyone shakes hands with everyone else on arrival at work and when they depart.

It’s also customary to say good day or good evening (bonsoir) on entering a small shop and goodbye (au revoir madame/monsieur) on leaving. Bonjour becomes bonsoir around 18.00 or after dark, although if you choose bonsoir (or bonjour), don’t be surprised if the response isn’t the same. Bonne nuit (good night) is used when going to bed or leaving a house in the evening.

On leaving a shop you may be wished bonne journe (have a nice day) or variations such as bon aprs-midi, bonne fin d’aprs-midi, bon dimanche or bon week-end, to which you may reply vous aussi, vous de mme or et vous. The standard and automatic reply to merci is je vous en prie (‘you’re welcome’).

Titles should generally be used when addressing or writing to people, particularly when the holder is elderly. The president of a company or institution should be addressed as monsieur (madame) le prsident (la prsidente), a courtesy title usually retained in retirement. The mayor must be addressed as Monsieur/Madame le Maire (even female mayors are le Maire!).

Kissing in France

To kiss or not to kiss, that is the question. It’s best to take it slowly when negotiating this social minefield and to take your cue from the French. You shouldn’t kiss (faire la bise) when first introduced to an adult, although young children will expect to be kissed. If a woman expects you to kiss her, she will offer her cheek. (Note that men kiss women and women kiss women but men don’t kiss men, unless they’re relatives or very close friends.) The ‘kiss’ is deposited high up on the cheek; it isn’t usually a proper kiss, more a delicate brushing of the cheeks accompanied by kissing noises, although some extroverts will plant a great wet smacker on each side of your face.

The next question is which cheek to kiss first. Again, take your cue from the natives, as the custom varies from region to region (and even the natives aren’t always sure where to start).

Finally, you must decide how many kisses to give. Two is the standard number, although many people kiss three or four or even six times. It depends partly on where you are in France. The British travel agent Thomas Cook recently published a French Kissing Guide, according to which four kisses are the norm in northern France, three in the mid-west and southern central areas and two in the west, east and extreme south, a single kiss being acceptable only in the department of Charente-Maritime! However, much also depends on how well you know the person concerned: acquaintances might kiss twice, friends four times and old friends six!

Kissing usually takes place when you take your leave, as well as when you greet someone. (It’s also customary to kiss everyone in sight - including the men if you’re a man - at midnight on New Year’s Eve!)

Vous & Tu

When talking to a stranger, use the formal form of address (vous). Don’t use the familiar form (tu/toi) or call someone by his Christian name until you’re invited to do so. Generally the older, more important or simply local person will invite the other to use the familiar tu form of address (called tutoiement) and first names; in fact, the switch will suddenly happen and you should pick up on it immediately or you will forever be stuck with the vous form. The familiar form is used with children, animals and God, but almost never with your elders or work superiors.

However, the French are becoming less formal and the under 50s often use tu and first names with work colleagues (unless they’re of the opposite sex, when tu may imply a special intimacy!), and will quickly switch from vous to tu with new social acquaintances, although older people may be reluctant to make the change. Some people always remain vous, such as figures of authority (the local mayor) or those with whom you have a business relationship, e. g. your bank manager, tax officials and policemen.

Gifts in France

If you’re invited to dinner by a French person (which is a sign that you’ve been accepted into the community), take along a small present of flowers, a plant or chocolates. Gifts of foreign food or drink aren’t generally well received unless they’re highly prized in France such as scotch whisky; foreign wine, however good the quality, isn’t recommended!

Some people say you must never take wine, as this implies that your hosts don’t know what wine to buy, although this obviously depends on your hosts and how well you know them. If you do take wine, however, don’t be surprised if your hosts put it to one side for a future occasion; they will already have planned the wine for the meal and know that a wine needs to settle before it can be drunk.

Flowers can be tricky, as to some people carnations mean bad luck, chrysanthemums are for cemeteries (they’re placed on graves on All Saints’ Day), red roses signify love and are associated with the Socialists and yellow roses have something to do with adultery, and marigolds (soucis) simply aren’t de rigueur. If in doubt, ask a florist for advice.

Eating & Drinking in France

You shouldn’t serve any drinks (or expect to be served one) before all guests have arrived - even if some are an hour or more late! If you’re offered a drink, wait until your host has toasted everyone’s health (sant) before taking a drink. Never pour your own drinks (except water) when invited to dinner. If you aren’t offered a (nother) drink, it’s time to go home. Always go easy on the wine and other alcohol; if you drink to excess you’re unlikely to be invited back! The French say bon apptit before starting a meal and you shouldn’t start eating until your hosts do. It’s polite to eat everything that’s put on your plate. Cheese is served before dessert.


The French love detailed and often heated discussions, but there are certain topics of conversation that need handling with care. These include money, which is generally avoided by the French; it’s a major faux pas to ask a new acquaintance what he does for a living, as his job title will often give an indication of his salary. Far safer to stick to discussions of food and drink. When conversing, even in the midst of a heated debate, avoid raising your voice, which is considered vulgar. Note also that the French often stand close when engaging in conversation, which you may find uncomfortable or even threatening at first.


Like the Italians, the French talk with their hands - often more than with their tongues - but the art of gesticulation can be as difficult to master (and as full of pitfalls for the unwary) as the spoken language. Here are a few tips that could help you avoid a faux pas: never point with your index finger, which is considered rude, but use an open hand (which should also be used when ‘thumbing’ a lift); similarly, beckon with your four fingers, palm down; the thumb is used to mean ‘one’ when counting, not the index finger; to indicate boredom, rub your knuckles against your cheek, to show surprise, shake your hand up and down, and to convey disbelief pull down your lower eyelid; tapping your fingers on the opposite forearm while raising the forearm slightly indicates an impending or actual departure - usually as a result of boredom! The classic French shrug is perhaps best left to the natives!


The sending of cards, other than birthday cards, isn’t as common in France as in some other countries. It isn’t, for example, usual to send someone a card following a bereavement or after passing a driving test. Instead of Christmas cards, the French send New Year cards, but only to people they don’t normally see during the year.

Dress code in France

Although the French are often formal in their relationships, their dress habits, even in the office, are often extremely casual. Note, however, that the French tend to judge people by their dress, the style and quality being as important as the correctness for the occasion (people often wear ‘designer’ jeans to dinner). You aren’t usually expected to dress for dinner, depending of course on the sort of circles you move in. On invitations, formal dress (black tie) is smoking exig/tenue de soire and informal dress is tenue de ville.

Phone Calls

Always introduce yourself before asking to speak to someone on the telephone. Surprisingly it’s common to telephone at meal times, e. g.12.00 to 14.00 and around 20.00, when you can usually be assured of finding someone at home. If you call at these times, you should apologise for disturbing the household. It isn’t always advisable to make calls after 14.00 in the provinces, when many people have a siesta.


It’s common for there to be noise restrictions in French towns and villages, particularly with regard to the use of lawnmowers and other mechanical tools. Restrictions are imposed locally and therefore vary, but in general, noisy activities are prohibited before around 08.00 or 09.00 every day, after 19.00 on weekdays and Saturdays and after 12.00 on Sundays, and additionally at lunchtime on Saturdays.

French Wedding Traditions

French Traditions and Traditions Before the Marriage Ceremony

The traditional bridal trousseau, or hope chest, originated in France and came from the French word trousse, meaning bundle.

The popularity of a bride wearing a white wedding gown on her day of matrimony, began in France several hundred years ago. The custom of having fragrant flowers as decorations and bridal bouquets has also been popular for centuries. Each flower represents a special and unique meaning to the bride and groom, and especially fragrant flowers helped freshen things up a bit, before deodorant and perfumes were invented. Wedding bells in France were usually heard in spring and summer when it was warm enough for everyone to bathe!

Still practiced in small villages today, is a traditional French custom, for the groom to call on his future bride at her home on the morning of their wedding day. As he escorts her to the wedding chappel, the town's children stretch white ribbons across the road, which the bride cuts. The groom usually walks his mother down the aisle just prior to the main wedding procession.

As the newlywed couple departs from the wedding site, laurel leaves are scattered in their path for them to walk over.

French Wedding Reception

A wedding toast is made to the newlyweds sometime during the traditional French wedding reception. Following this toast, they drink, as husband and wife, from a specially engraved, double handled goblet, usually a precious family heirloom passed down from generation to generation.

After the wedding reception, and even later into the couple's wedding night, friends of the newlyweds might show up outside their window banging pots and pans, singing boisterous tunes. The groom is expected to invite them in for drinks and snacks.

Save the ribbons and bows that grace the gifts you receive at your bridal shower to create an artistic bouquet that you carry during the wedding rehearsal. Remember that each ribbon that breaks as you open the packages is said to represent the birth of a child.

Plant a seedling on the morning of or the day before your wedding to grow along with your marriage. If roses are one of your favorite blooms, you might choose the plant that is always associated with love.

Future wealth and good fortune for newlyweds is said to be inspired by slipping a lucky sixpence into one of the shoes you wear for your wedding. The sixpence first became known as a lucky coin when introduced by Edward VI of England in 1551, and later became part of wedding tradition with brides in the Victorian era.

Brides are encouraged to include "something blue" among their wedding finery to bolster the favorite old line, "Those who dress in blue have lovers true." Blue has long been considered the color of fidelity, purity and love, and was first worn in ribbons by early Jewish brides.

Carry a handkerchief passed down through generations of your family to begin your own tradition with a lacy square that you select. A bride who cries on her wedding day is never supposed to shed another tear about her marriage.

The custom of a bride being given away originated with the sale of the bride by the father to the prospective groom. Today, the tradition is considered a sign of the father entrusting his beloved daughter to the care of her husband-to-be.

The ceremonial kiss that closes the marriage ceremony is considered symbolic of an exchange of spirit as each new spouse breathes a part of the soul into the other.

The celebration of marriage is heightened by the offering of toasts to the bride and groom. Ancient French custom encouraged the newlyweds to drink the reception toast from a special cup that was typically passed among family generations. Today, couples are given special toasting goblets for their reception.

French Tradition The traditional bridal trousseau, or hope chest, originated in France and came from the French word trousse, meaning bundle. The popularity of a bride wearing a white wedding gown on her day of matrimony, began in France several hundred years ago. The custom of having fragrant flowers as decorations and bridal bouquets has also been popular for centuries. Each flower represents a special and unique meaning to the bride and groom, and especially fragrant flowers helped freshen things up a bit, before deodorant and perfumes were invented. Wedding bells in France were usually heard in spring and summer when it was warm enough for everyone to bathe!

Still practiced in small villages today, is a traditional French custom, for the groom to call on his future bride at her home on the morning of their wedding day. As he escorts her to the wedding chapel, the town's children stretch white ribbons across the road, which the bride cuts. The groom usually walks his mother down the aisle just prior to the main wedding procession. As the newlywed couple departs from the wedding site, laurel leaves are scattered in their path for them to walk over.

A wedding toast is made to the newlyweds sometime during the traditional French wedding reception. Following this toast, they drink, as husband and wife, from a specially engraved, double handled goblet, usually a precious family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. After the wedding reception, and even later into the couple's wedding night, friends of the newlyweds might show up outside their window banging pots and pans, singing boisterous tunes. The groom is expected to invite them in for drinks and snacks.

The great thing about Paris in the Spring is that Spring comes early to Paris! Around Easter time, while the buds are still struggling to open in much of rural France, even in areas far to the south of Paris, the green is bursting open all over Paris, in the parks, on the tree-lined boulevards, on balconies and terraces. So it's hardly surprising that "Paris in the spring" is something of a clich. After the cold months of winter, the Easter holiday period is a great time to visit the French capital.

Good Friday - the Friday before Easter - is not a public holiday in France, so it's a day for business as usual in shops, museums and restaurants - though perhaps a bit less busy than on a normal Friday, since many Parisians take a long weekend and head off to the country for this first holiday weekend of the year. The official holiday is on Easter Monday which, in France as throughout Europe, is a public holiday.

Easter week is not necessarily a school holiday week; French spring school holidays do not necessarily include the Easter week or Easter weekend, it depends on the region and on when Easter falls. Easter Monday being a public holiday, many shops and public monuments such as Museums will be closed; but the Louvre is open on Easter Monday, as on Easter Sunday - though beware of the crowds on these days. Check here for other Paris tourist attractions.

As throughout Europe, Easter in France rhymes with Easter Eggs. But Easter Eggs in France are just one among many other options as far as Easter gifts are concerned. The essential common ingredient, however, is chocolate. While supermarkets of course sell industirally produced Easter eggs and other tokens, many French people will prefer to get their Easter Eggs, chocolate Easter Bunnies, Easter Hens, Easter Bells or "friture" from a local bakery, patisserie, or - for the top quality - a local "chocolatier". And generally speaking it's worth the little (or sometimes considerable) extra cost.

Local bakers, patissiers and chocolatiers pride themselves on making good-quality Easter chocolates, often individually decorated and presented with loving care. Eggs, bunnies and other chocolate animals come either "garnis" or "non-garnis", meaning filled or unfilled. Filled versions usually contain small chocolates, or small sugary eggs - and often a mixture of the two.

"Friture", that other Easter tradition, are little chocolate fish - which historically have more to do with April Fool's Day than Easter (An April Fool joke in France is called "un poisson d'avril", an April fish); but the two events being almost simultaneous, the distinction has been forgotten.

Easter is traditionally a family celebration in France, and an excuse for a good family Sunday lunch, for which the traditional meat is roast lamb. For children, a traditional Easter pastime is hunting in the garden (or even in the apartment) for hidden chocolate eggs that according to tradition have been brought back overnight from Rome by the "Easter bells"; church bells in France traditionally remain silent from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday.

French Easter (Pques) Traditions

Easter is celebrated in France much as it is in America, with various religious ceremonies commemorating the rebirth of Jesus, and cultural customs having to do with rabbits, chocolates and eggs.

The predominant religion in France is Roman-Catholic (90%). No city, village or town is without a church. Many of them date back to the twelfth century or before. Most churches have a bell, which is rung joyfully throughout the year marking various events and the passage of time. On the Thursday before Good Friday, all church bells in France are silenced in acknowledgement of Jesus' death. In fun, children are told that the bell's chimes have flown to Rome to see the Pope. Easter morning, the bells ring out once again in celebration of the Resurrection, declaring that Jesus is alive again. In some villages, people kiss and embrace one another when they hear the bells ring.

Easter morning is a happy time for children who wake to look for colorfully decorated Easter eggs (les oeufs de Pques) hidden in their gardens, homes and playgrounds. Parents tell their children the eggs were brought from Rome (where the chimes had gone), and that when the chimes returned they brought the eggs with them. In some parts of France children look for small chariots full of eggs pulled by white horses.

Unlike Americans, the French allot an extra vacation day for the Easter holiday. Everyone gets an automatic three-day weekend which they usually use to spend time with family. Schools and universities tend to center the second spring vacation (two weeks for each of them) around Pques as well. Easter also marks the start of the "high" season for tourists, and hotel prices rise accordingly. A series of holidays (starting with the three-day Easter weekend) continues into May, with a trio of three-day weekends that month. Oui!

French Confiseries and Chocolatiers

As always, the French take great pride and joy in their food, and no village is without at least one or more confiseries (candy shops). Easter is the perfect time of year for master chocolatiers to display and celebrate their delectable wares. Great attention to detail and years of practice result in chocolate eggs that look more like works of art than anything edible! They are truly beautiful, and many people enjoy strolling the avenues peering into the shop windows as if they are at a museum or art show.

Poisson D'Avril (French Easter Fish)

Everyone knows of chocolate rabbits in America, but did you know the French delight in chocolate fish? Although not directly related to Easter, poisson d'Avril are enjoyed throughout the entire Easter season. These fishy little friends start appearing in shops on April 1st, when children use paper versions to play an April Fools type trick. The 'trick' is to stick a paper fish onto the back of as many adults as possible, then run away yelling, "Poisson d'Avril!" (April fish!). The tradition is several centuries old. Some say it evolved from a silly 'fish trick' where one would send an unknowing person to market to buy freshwater fish when it was not in season. In French culture, food follows season, and even children know when (and when not!) to buy oysters!

Cloche Volant (Chocolate Flying Bells)

As mentioned above, bells play an important role in the French Easter tradition. Candy shops sell chocolate flying bells alongside Easter eggs and bunnies, in the same way many candy shops in America sell chocolate crucifixes. These edible bells are another nod the the resurrection of Jesus, a time for celebration, and the end of Lent.

Easter Games

Raw eggs are rolled down a gentle slope. The surviving egg is declared a victory egg, and symbolizes the stone being rolled away from Jesus' tomb.

Children might play a game of tossing raw eggs in the air. The first child to drop and break his egg is the loser, and in some versions, must pay a penalty (e. g. give up a piece of his Easter candy to his brothers or sisters). This is similar to the 'egg and spoon' game we play in America, only in our version the last one to have an egg left is declared the winner, and gets an extra prize!

Do you know of any French Easter traditions not listed here? If so, please leave a comment and tell us about them.

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 Rveillon.

Christmas in France

The celebration of Christmas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, which is a bank holiday. However, in eastern and northern France, the Christmas season begins on 6 December, la fte de Saint Nicolas, and in some provinces la fte des Rois* is one the most important holidays of the Christmas season. In Lyon, 8 December is la Fte de lumires, when Lyonnais pay hommage to the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows to light up the city.

*Epiphany (la fte des Rois) is usually celebrated the 6th of January, but in some places in France it is celebrated the first Sunday after January 1st.

French Christmas Traditions.

French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Pre Nol (aka Papa Nol) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight. In some regions there's also Pre Fouettard who gives out spankings to bad children (sort of the equivalent of Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty).

In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response.

Le Rveillon Although 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 Rveillon (from the verb rveiller, to wake up or revive). Le Rveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth and is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or caf that is open all night. Each region in France has its own traditional Christmas menu, with dishes like turkey, capon, goose, chicken, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).

Throughout the French Christmas season, there are special traditional desserts:

La bche de Nol (Yule log) - A log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. Representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day in the Prigord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration.

Le pain calendeau (in southern France) - Christmas loaf, part of which is given to a poor person.

La Galette des Rois (on Epiphany) - round cake which is cut into pieces and distributed by a child, known as le petit roi or l'enfant soleil, hiding under the table. Whoever finds la fve - the charm hidden inside - is King or Queen and can choose a partner.

French Christmas Decorations The sapin de Nol is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories. The sapin de Nol appeared in Alsace in the 14th century, decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was introduced in France in 1837.

Another important aspect of French Christmas celebrations is the crche filled with santons, which is displayed in churches and many homes. Living crches in the form of plays and puppet shows based on the Nativity are commonly performed to teach the important ideas of Christianity and the Christmas celebration.

Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year.

After Rveillon, it's customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by.