The winter holiday season is rolling in, and people all around the world are celebrating in their own ways. If you or your loved ones are learning French, you might want to try incorporating a few French holiday customs into your own festivities! Here are just a true classic French ways to celebrate the holidays.
Indulge in a delicious Bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël, or Yule logs, are a delicious pastry that are easy to find here in the USA, but they're even more popular in France! Many many years ago, a Bûche de Noël was a literal log that families would burn to bring good luck in the coming year. Nowadays, it's basically a big fancy Swiss roll. They come in all sorts of flavor varieties, but they're usually covered in chocolatey goodness!
Decorate with fruit
Maybe you've seen cranberry garlands on American Christmas trees? This is the next level of that tradition. The very first French Christmas trees featured real red apples as part of the decorations. Some say that the apple represented the Garden of Eden. Whether or not that's true, apples and fruit still make popular Christmas decorations– but they're typically glass ornaments, not real! After all, that could get mushy.
Shop at a holiday market
Christmas markets, or marchés de Noel, are difficult to miss in many parts of France– especially Alsace! The city of Strasbourg alone has at least 7 different markets to choose from. They're a little less common here in the USA, but most major cities and many quaint towns have them! French markets tend to consist ornate little wooden stalls rather than the tents you often see in the states, and they're a great place to buy gifts and soak in the festive ambiance.
Deck the halls with mistletoe
Sure, mistletoe is popular around the holiday season here in the USA. The big difference is what it means. Here, mistletoe is a pretense for a kiss. In France, mistletoe simply signifies good luck in the coming year! Mistletoe is called Gui in French, which is also the name of a popular Christmastime character. While Santa Claus travels with eight tiny flying reindeer, the French equivalent, Père Noël, has a flying donkey companion named Gui. Children even leave out carrots or apples for him on Christmas Eve!
Put out a next-level nativity scene
Nativity scenes are popular Christmas decorations for religious households. There's the stable, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds... and the butcher, the baker, and the fishmonger? In the Provence region of France, nativity scenes, or crèches, are truly elaborate. Each one represents an entire village, frozen in time. The practice began when many Christmas traditions were banned during the French Revolution. It's much easier to hide a Christmas scene amid a bustling village!
Christmas Eve in France is really more like... Christmas Super Early Morning. Most people who observe the holiday religiously attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Families also have a late Christmas Eve dinner as their main celebratory meal, not on Christmas Day. If you're VERY traditional, you eat this 'dinner' after the midnight mass. This is called réveillon, which means waking, because you have to stay awake until morning! In other households, réveillon is eaten before. Either way, it often includes extravagant foods we might not expect like fois gras, oysters, and escargots!
Keep the party going
The holiday season isn't over on Christmas Day. Celebrations continue until January, when families celebrate Epiphany, aka Three Kings Day or La Fête des Rois. Traditionally, people serve a King's Cake, a circular puff pastry filled with almond cream, with either a bean or a small figurine hidden inside. Whoever gets the little surprise in their slice gets to be king or queen for the day! New Orleans style king cakes are a little different. They're more like a coffee cake or cinnamon roll and covered in bright purple, green, and yellow sugar sprinkles!
Will you incorporate any of these traditions into your family's celebrations this year? Or will you make a New Year's resolution to start learning French in 2023? We can't wait to find out!