Christmas in France

Amane Mori and Sasya Reddy

December has arrived, and it is getting near to the most wonderful time of the year: Christmas! Christmas is celebrated in a grand fashion in the United States as well as in France. Similar to the United States, Christmas in France is all about friends, family, food, and gifts. Despite those similarities, there are many differences between French and American Christmas traditions that you may not have known. Here are some of the facts about the Christmas traditions in France and the different ways regions in France celebrate the holiday!

Christmas in French is called “Noël,” also known as Saint Nicholas’ Day, and the celebration starts on December 6th. Saint Nicholas is the protector of the children, also known as Santa Claus in the United States! On the night of December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, children place their shoes on the entrance of their houses for Santa Claus to place a treat in it, and the children will wake up for a gift in the morning. Traditionally, the celebration of Christmas takes place on the 24th of Christmas, Christmas eve, in France. French people enjoy their Christmas meal known as “Le Réveillon de Noël,” which translates to Christmas eve, which is usually held late in the night. Children also receive their gifts on Christmas eve, and the French advent calendar only goes up to the 24th of December.  However, things have changed and now, Christmas is also celebrated on the 25th by some French families. The traditional Christmas dishes in France include roasted turkeys, oysters, and foie gras, which are processed duck or goose liver. After the luxurious meal, a traditional Christmas cake called “Buche de Noel,” also known as the yule log, is served as a dessert. 

During the Christmas holiday season, the atmosphere in the streets of Paris fills up with joy and excitement. When visiting Paris during this season, there are many places you must visit in Paris in order to not miss out in the experience. From mid-November, all the trees and buildings along the streets get decorated with twinkling lights and colorful decorations. The avenue of Champs-Elysees is well known for its gorgeous and lavish Christmas illuminations, with over one million light bulbs draped on 400 trees covering the streets of Paris in magic. After enjoying the beautiful Christmas scene, French people visit “Marchés de Noël” (Christmas markets that are held across the city during December). The biggest and one of the most prominent markets in Paris is in La Defense, with approximately 350 food and craft stalls spread across 13,000 square meters. The markets are also beautifully decorated with colorful lights, adding more enjoyment to Christmas shopping in Paris. There are many more Christmas events that take place in Paris such as ice skating and church concerts that make the Christmas holiday experience in Paris extra magical!

Avenue of Champs-Elysees during Christmas

Alsace is a region in France that borders Germany. The celebration of Christmas in Alsace has unique German influences because of its borders and its history as a part of Germany. Although Saint Nicholas is the same throughout France, always joyous and generous, Alsace has a few different characters in their Christmas stories. Hans Trapp is a uniquely vicious and cruel character. In the United States, the worst that misbehaving children receive is stocking full of coal in lieu of presents. To the children of Alsace, this would be a cushy punishment as Hans Trapp punishes naughty children by throwing them into his sack and dumping them like trash within the dark forest all alone. Hope for disobedient children exists however in the form of the benevolent, beautiful woman in white: Christkindl. Being a source of light, she guides children out of the forest and back to their happy homes. She is often associated with Christmas miracles. Peckeresel is a donkey character within these tales, and he is described as a loyal companion of both Christkindl and St. Nicholas. The most iconic part of the holidays in Alsace is without a doubt the stunning Christmas markets. The Strasbourg Christmas market, Christkindelsmärik is arguably the most famous one in Alsace. In all of Europe, Christkindelsmärik is possibly the oldest Christmas market with its origins dating back to 1570. The whole market is lit up with beautiful decorations and a humongous Christmas tree that bellows over the joyous attendees. The town is known as the Christmas capital of France, and the market sells everything from niche trinkets to seasonal treats. Christmas in Alsace is all about embracing the old and renewing it for the now. The respect for tradition and culture makes the holiday season in Alsace quite unique.


Compared to the United States, European countries have a much older, longer history. The traditions within these cultures have strong bonds with the people there, and France is no exception. Christmas in France no matter where one goes is defined by community and tradition. Annual celebrations have a way of warming people’s hearts and bringing them into the Christmas spirit. Christmas holds some global activities such as grand dinners and holiday shopping, but the addition of Saint Nicholas’ Day and Hans Trapp shows some different ideas. No matter the location in France or the US, the holiday season reminds many of beautiful decorations, a generous spirit, and most importantly, being with those closest to the heart.