Christmas in France

No worldwide tour of the traditions of Christmas would be complete without a stop in France. And just as if you were strolling down Avenue de Champs Elysses, it’s best to make this a long, leisurely stroll because you won’t want to miss a thing.

Like you, equates France with many worldwide, famous attractions, including the Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles and Eiffel Tower.

But sometimes it takes a foreign visitor to realize that France has elevated the nativity scene to an equally vaulted status.  Most nativity scenes around the world feature Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, a donkey, a sheep, an ox and the three wise men – all watched overhead by an angel of God. But in many parts of France, people create a Provencal nativity, which co-mingles the usual biblical characters with villagers, dignitaries and musicians from the village of Provence, France. While the number of these “little saints,” or santons, is remarkable, it is the craftsmanship of the clay pieces that is most impressive.

Christmas in France would not be complete without them, for the figures are sculpted to look as life-like as possible, captured in realistic “snapshots” of human movement. Their impeccable and expressive facial features grace body forms that are veiled in bright, painted clothing that is sometimes enhanced by a layer of real fabric.

Over time, the French’s affection for the “little saints” has grown tremendously: today, those who devote their lives to the Provencal craft are known as “santonniers.” Some create life-size displays that are exhibited in town squares around during Christmas in France. Meanwhile, the Pastorales are re-enacted in public throughout the country while parents pass along the tales to their children on Christmas Eve.

Christmas in France Showcases the Country’s Gourmet Tastes

Food also is considered an art form in France, and families rise to the occasion with Le Reveillon, a grand feast that includes as many as 15 courses. The aperitif portion of the meal usually includes seven meatless (or mostly meatless) dishes – symbolic of the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary.

The main course of this elaborate meal varies widely by region and taste, as some French families might enjoy turkey stuffed with chestnuts while others partake in duck, goose or ham. Lobster and crab top the menu at many family gatherings during Christmas in France, as do the more exotic venison, capon and wild boar. For Le Reveillon, the emphasis is on rich, quality foods that are prepared with great care and presented with flair.

To complete the meal in grand style, the French create a cake called Buche de Noel, which means “Christmas log.” The base is usually prepared in jelly roll fashion with a chocolate butter cream filling. The roll is frosted with dark chocolate and decorated to resemble the traditional and ancient Yule log. The French enjoy making variations of this beloved dessert, exchanging recipes for different types of cake, fillings and frostings during Christmas in France.

See what we mean by that leisurely stroll? The French continue to celebrate on Christmas day, called Noel, and also mark the Epiphany on January 6. Round out your knowledge of Christmas in France from the full article on our website and share the story with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

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