French Christmas traditions that are still in fashion

French Christmas traditions are a cherry on the top during Christmas season in Paris. Christmas becomes a wonderland in Paris as it lights up in a charming way. It is the most magical and intimate time of the year because families get together to cherish the Christmas festivities.

“The shopping, the food, the views! Paris is a city that entrances us all—and I’m no exception.”

Michael Kors

No doubt, it is a religious and cultural occasion but Parisians avail this holiday as quality family time. So much happens in Paris during Christmas such as Christmas concerts, Christmas lights and decorations. Yet, there are some French Christmas traditions that are distinctive and are followed by Parisians.

However, many cultures in Europe have the same Christmas traditions as French. Also, many French traditions are just myths. In this article, I will walk you through all French Christmas traditions.

No matter, you are in Paris on a holiday or sipping your coffee at home, you can adopt most popular French Christmas traditions.

First things first, do you have any idea how to wish Christmas in French?

If you know, that is well and good. Nevertheless, if you are not familiar, practice with me.

Joyeux Noël” pronounced as Jo-ye Nu-el. It means “Merry Christmas”.

When does Christmas start in France?

Christmas starts in Paris on December 6 as the whole city sparkles in Christmas lights. If you are in France during December, you will easily feel the Christmas vibes in the streets. Although many Parisians and tourists celebrate the festivities on December 25, but the Christmas decorations and lights, disperse on the city officially. Like US, Christmas songs are not mostly played by the French stores.

Moreover, religious catholic families start Christmas celebrations on the first Sunday of advent. People congregate at French churches for the Christmas Eve Mass and the Christmas day services following the French Christmas traditions. Finally, Christmas season ends with a traditional Epiphany festivity that takes place twelve days after the Christmas day.

Pro top: Do not get surprised if people do not wish you Joyeux Noel because it is not common in France.

French Christmas Traditions
Christmas Decorations in front of Eiffel Tower

How the French celebrate Christmas?

Although most French people consider Christmas a family holiday more than a religious event, everyone must follow some Christmas traditions. For instance, people decorate their houses with the Christmas knick-knacks as early as second week of December. All the famous avenues and boulevards are adorned with lights and glittery Christmas decorations.

French departmental stores present striking Christmas window displays. Every popular square have its own giant Christmas tree. Christmas tree is a traditional Christmas symbol, which dates back to 1521. French call it le sapin de noël or arbre de noël.  In addition, it is a tradition to decorate a Christmas tree in homes.

Christmas trees at the big departmental stores are a must essential of French Christmas traditions. A huge Christmas tree at “les Galeries Lafayette” really gets you into the Christmas spirit every year.

galeries lafayette
Christmas tree at les Galeries Lafayette

Traditional Christmas Markets in Paris

As soon as Christmas season starts, Christmas markets start appearing at different centers in the cities as well as in villages. Let me fill you in, it is very old French Christmas tradition that doubles the Christmas fun. It is a custom to set up Christmas market by the end of November till New Year. These markets have almost everything you can imagine.

In chilly winter evenings, people come out of their homes and stroll in these Christmas markets to blend into the festive vibe. Now comes the important question that is what do you call Christmas markets in French?

Yes, marchés de Noel it is. 

It is important to know the French translation of Christmas markets in order to march through these markets.

Paris hosts the most beautiful Christmas markets and chalets and it feels dreamy to roam around in these markets. I have curated a dedicated article about the magical Christmas markets in Paris. You can read that article here.

French tradition of Christmas meal is always in during Christmas

The Christmas meal is an old ritual and an important part of the Christmas traditions in France. It is called “Le Réveillon de Noël” and made with special ingredients including love and generosity. French households often serve the Christmas meal after the midnight Christmas Mas on December 24.

However, some families like to serve the traditional Christmas meal on December 25.

You must be thinking what make Christmas meal special.

The answer is that French people are food lovers bigtime. Furthermore, the Christmas meal provides them 6 hours to sit together along with delicious food. Christmas meal is served in different courses and it ends with desserts, cheese and sweets. Besides, the menu of this meal varies from region to region according to the traditions.

However, in Paris, most families like to have seafood as starter especially oysters. It is a common practice in Parisian to keep it simple yet healthy by serving bread and butter among other main course meals. Parisians like to end their meal with caviar, foie gras and the traditional Christmas Yule Log, the Bûche de Noël.

Anyhow, if you are visiting Paris all alone and do not have friends and family over there, here is the list of best restaurants in Paris.

traditional French Christmas meal
Christmas meal

Is Christmas cards still a French Christmas tradition?

Christmas cards are very old French ritual that people used to wish Christmas to friends and family back in the day. Conversely, with the emerging social media platforms now this French tradition is not practiced widely. I tell you why, people find it convenient to post a Christmas wish and a New Year recap book on social networking sites.

Virtual Christmas greetings are great but traditional Christmas cards have their own charm.

Do not worry, if you are an old soul stuck in a modern body and want to send a Christmas card to your loved ones. You can write Vœux de Bonheur pour un Joyeux Noël” that means “Happy wishes for a Mery Christmas”.

In case you missed the chance to send a Christmas card, you still have the time to transcribe Bonne année on a card and send it to your family back home. It means Happy New Year.

French practice “Les Etrennes” religiously

It is a deep-rooted French Christmas tradition to hand money or things to the house help as a gift. This ritual is extended to the mail carrier and garbage collector. It is not a rule in France but French people strongly follow this tradition Every Year.

In some cases, service provides even ask for reward at the end of year. Nevertheless, it is customary to give the cash to the house help in France. The amounts you want to give depend solely on your pocket, and how much you want to shower. But hey, Parisians are really generous when it comes to “Les Etrennes”. They often give one or half-additional salary of the month to show their gratitude towards their helpers.

It does not matter how small “Les Etrennes” you give by following this French Christmas tradition. What matters is your empathy for human beings.

Also, isn’t it a nice gesture?

traditional Christmas gifts in Paris

What does tradition of “L’Avent” teach?

L’Avent is a religious French Christmas tradition. According to this tradition, People start preparing for Christmas four Sundays before the actual day. This tradition is usually practiced to teach kids tolerance. A calendar is made having a little nook. This calendar hides a treat such as candy, image or any toy for each day. Kids are supposed to open one slot each day before the coming of Christ.

This tradition is a lesson of patience wrapped in fun. But for me, it is an interesting way to countdown until the Christmas day comes.

La Crèche” is important part of French Christmas traditions

La crèche” is a traditional part of French Christmas celebrations and decorations. It is a catholic Christmas tradition that signifies the birth of Jesus. Its characters include Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a donkey and an ox. Further, 3 kings are also added to the main characters. This traditional Christmas manger transfers from one generation to another in France.

Traditional French Christmas Presents?

Faire des cadeaux is the term used for exchanging presents in French. People gift stockings that hang along the fireplace during Christmas season. It was a tradition to hide Christmas gifts in shoes by the Santa. However, nowadays Christmas trees are another prominent spot to find Christmas gifts.

If you are wandering what are the traditional French presents for Christmas, look into this article.

Christmas markets are very popular among French people to buy christmas gifts.

Christmas gifts in paris

Is French Christmas Carols tradition still alive?

Caroling is an old Christmas tradition which was observed in the streets actively back in the day. Nowadays, singing Christmas songs is not that common in the streets. It is not forbidden but it is not a French ritual anymore. In case you are looking, singing Christmas songs is called chanter des chants de Noël in French.

From where does the tradition of French Santa Claus come?

Père Noël is a character of Father that used to appear in French Christmas season with his white beard. Pere Noel is now replaced with Santa Clause.  This character was not French originally. It was actually called Sinterklaas in Germany that later transformed into Saint Nicholas. This traditional character is an important part of the French Christmas traditions. It also brings presents for the well behaved children usually on December 6.

I have listed all the possible questions with answers that you can think. However, if you want to know something else or you are familiar with some other French Christmas tradition, let me know in comments.

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