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CHRISTMAS

5 things to know about a traditional French Christmas

From florists to oysters, whips to religion, here are five things to know about celebrating a traditional Christmas in France.

5 things to know about a traditional French Christmas
French Christmas always involves seafood. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

When

Both December 24th and 25th are important days in France, although only the 25th is a public holiday (and if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday then bad luck, there’s no extra day off work).

The big Christmas seafood feast (more on that below) is traditionally held on the 24th while most families also exchange presents on this day. The 25th usually involves visiting relatives for lunch.

December 26th, known as Boxing Day in the UK, is not a thing in France and if it falls on a weekday then most people will be back at work.

Virtually all shops and many offices are open on the 24th, while the 26th is a normal working day (unless it falls on a Sunday, as it does this year).

On the 25th most shops close – although boulangeries, patisseries and florists (so you can pick up flowers or a plant for your hostess at lunch) often open in the mornings. In cities, public transport usually runs at least some services, if not a full schedule.

Presents 

Presents are exchanged among friends and families, although the festival is slightly less of a consumerist nirvana than in anglophone countries. Within families present-giving often centres on children, with adults swapping smaller gifts.

Père Noël visits and leaves presents for the well-behaved children – and in certain parts of the country Père Fouettard (Father Flogger) visits naughty children with his whip, which may explain why French children tend to be quite well-behaved. 

Watch out, too, for the Santons de Provence in Christmas markets. These are small hand-painted clay figurines that depict the people of Provence, in traditional costumes and carrying humble offerings, on their way to the Nativity. Sometimes, humorous or topical additions are made – in 2019, one santon-maker added a Yellow Vest protester. They are used to decorate festive cribs at home, or watch over gifts at the foot of the Christmas tree.

Food

Obviously all good festivals centre on food and France has its own traditions.

The big feast in France centres on seafood and families devour huge platters of shellfish including prawns, lobsters, crabs, whelks and – the Christmas king – oysters.

READ ALSO Why do the French eat so much seafood at Christmas?

Christmas trees in Strasbourg. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Traditionally this meal is eaten on the evening of December 24th or sometimes the early hours of the 25th, after everyone has returned from Midnight Mass.

On the 25th the lunch often involves a roast bird – duck and goose is popular, as is guinea fowl and turkey. This isn’t a strictly observed ritual though, and many families have their own food traditions for this day.

The usual Christmas desert is a Bûche du Noël (Christmas log) which is a chocolate or chestnut roulade with festive decorations. It’s often served with exotic fruits and you will see lots of pineapples and lychées in the shops at this time of year. 

Often served as a starter or canapé over the festive period is foie gras, and it’s usually included in the hampers that older people get from their local mayor.

If you’re in Provence, you will also get to experience the ’12 desserts of Christmas’. 

Religion 

France is famously a secular republic and Christmas is – obviously – a Christian festival, so how to these two things square?

There are some nods to laïcité during the Christmas period – Christmas cribs are not allowed in public buildings such as town halls, and if your kids are in a French school you won’t be forced to go and watch them put on a nativity play – but in general it’s just celebrated as a festival that everyone enjoys.

READ ALSO What exactly does laïcité (secularism) mean in France?

So mayors erect Christmas trees (apart from some refusenik Green officials), mairies sport non-religious decorations including festive lights and politicians wish all their constituents a very happy Christmas. 

Afterwards

Once Christmas itself is over there is still New Year to look forward to. Although this isn’t such a wild party/drinking session as in some countries it is still celebrated and usually most towns put on a spectacular firework display as the clock strikes midnight – although the city of Paris has cancelled its display this year due to Covid fears.

READ ALSO The health rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in France 

And once that is over there’s still one thing to look forward to – Epiphany on January 6th which involves a special cake with a crown.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Rail strikes, summer drinks and avoiding ticks: Six essential articles for life in France

From how to avoid that pesky, disease-carrying insect to the tastiest, most refreshing beverages in France and whether you can plan on a summer of delays and cancellations on train lines, here are the six essential articles for life in France.

Rail strikes, summer drinks and avoiding ticks: Six essential articles for life in France

Many of us are feeling the call to evacuate the cities and head for the great outdoors as the warmer weather and sunshine take hold across France. If you’re off on a hiking trip or simply taking your pet for a walk in an area with high grass, you might be wondering about the chances of being bitten by a tick. Unfortunately, these pesky insects can be found across France, though they are more common in certain areas.

If you do find yourself in a particularly tick-friendly environment and you’re wondering how to protect yourself, or you’re simply wondering which parts of France are tick hotspots, we’ve put together a guide for avoiding these tiny insects while in France.

What you should know about ticks in France and how to avoid them

While France is known for being a global gastronomy capital, sometimes a delicious beverage is just as important as a hearty meal.

Thankfully, France has a wide range of refreshing drinks to try, and these warm weather specific beverages are sure to quench your thirst whether you’re sitting on a terrace or along the beach.  

If you find yourself hosting pre-dinner drinks in the coming weeks, you’ll want to consult our list of the best things to drink in France this summer. There are options for everyone, for those looking for alcoholic beverages and non-drinkers alike.

Rosé, spritz and pressé: 5 things to drink in France this summer

Strikes are an undeniable part of French cultural identity. But will this summer be worse than average when it comes to industrial action? After over two years of pandemic shutdowns and layoffs, and amid rising inflation, workers are demanding higher wages. SNCF (France’s national rail service) saw its workers stage a one-day walk out in early July, causing widespread delays and cancellations.

So how much of a headache will travel during the first summer without strict Covid-19 related restrictions be? We’ve tried to look ahead to try to give you an idea of what to expect from rail strikes this summer in France, and whether they’re likely to rumble on.

Will rail strikes in France rumble on throughout the summer? 

Regardless of whether you’re looking to stun with your next Bugatti or simply seeking out a trustworthy Peugeot, buying a car in France as a foreigner might feel confusing, particularly if you do not hold a French driver’s licence.

Living in France involves a lot of paperwork, and so do procedures for buying and selling cars here. However, you might be pleasantly surprised that the process is more straightforward than you might have thought.  

Complete with the list of documents you need to provide, this article will help speed along your process toward your next vehicle.

Reader question: Can I buy or sell a car in France if I have a foreign driving licence?

On the topic of driving, you might be considering heading off to your summer holidays by car this year. With the school year finished, families across France are hitting the roads to make their way to la campagne for some much needed R&R.

Each year, France’s traffic watchdog, Bison Futé, keeps us informed of what to expect in terms of road congestion, offering four different levels of traffic intensity to help you decide whether to pack that extra snack and book for the long ride. 

When – and where – to avoid driving on France’s roads this summer

If you have a television in your living room, you might be able to look forward to saving €138 this upcoming year. The French government recently announced plans to scrap the TV licence, but if you’ve wondered what that money actually goes to and why it might be done away with, you’re not alone.

The TV licence actually raises over €3.7 billion a year for national public broadcasting, so the decision to get rid of it has not been met with applause from everyone. We’ve explained exactly what your €138 had been going towards, and answered your question of how public media in France might end up being funded in the future without the TV licence to help

EXPLAINED: What France’s TV licence pays for and what might replace it?

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