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How the French Celebrate Christmas

December 21, 2018

Have you ever heard of the bad Santa who whips children when they’re naughty? He’s called le Père Fouettard and all French people know about him! Christmas in France is in many ways very different from Christmas in America. The French don’t hang stockings, the idea of ugly holiday sweaters is totally foreign to them, and when you ask them about Christmas dinner the first thing that comes to mind is often seafood. We’ve asked some of our teachers at Coucou to describe their favorite Christmas memories and family traditions to give you a taste of what a French Christmas is like!

By Sophia Millman



Victoire: I remember that we would put out clementines, spéculoos biscuits, and a glass of milk for le Père Noël (and sometimes a glass of wine, too!). An essential part of Christmas for my family has always been the singer Tino Rossi: my family plays his carols everyday the week before Christmas.

Check out Tino Rossi’s version of “White Christmas” here


Under the Tree

Léa: A lot of families put pairs of shoes or slippers under their sapin and then Santa places your presents next to your pair! When my sister and I were little, we loved looking at the catalogue de Noel, where you could check off a list selecting which toys you wanted for Christmas. The day the catalogue came out was always one of the most exciting days in December!

Take a look at a few 2018 French Christmas toy catalogues here:


The Meal

Thomas: Every year, my family orders a bûche de Noël from the local bakery. There’s a long line outside the shop the day before Christmas as everybody waits to get their cake! We usually eat oysters, foie gras, and either goose or capon for le réveillon (Christmas Eve dinner).

You may not buy capon for your Christmas dinner, but here’s a recipe for the dish that works well for roast chicken, too:



Nina: Christmas in Switzerland is pretty similar to Christmas in France. Growing up, I used to love the “pestacle de Noël.” Children sometimes mispronounce the word show or “spectacle” which is why we call our Christmas kids’ shows pestacles. Each child in my family would prepare something for the family show–sometimes you would memorize a poem or maybe choreograph a little dance–and then we’d perform it in front of everyone!

Going to be in Paris during the holiday season? Here’s a site that has great Christmas shows and other events you might want to attend:



Eléonore: Just like Americans, we love advent calendars! One thing that is different for us is that traditionally we go to Christmas mass at midnight so even when you’re a kid you get to stay up really late on Christmas Eve! We often have fewer Christmas decorations than Americans do, but almost every family has a crèche, which is what we call a Nativity scene. When you go to a French Christmas market, you’ll see tons little figurines called”santons” that you can add to your crèche. Some families get very enthusiastic about their scenes and will create a whole miniature Christmas village!

Interested to see what sort of Nativity figurines French people buy? Have a look at this French site:


Extending the Holiday!

Marianne: I love the Christmas season in France because we have so many holidays: Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th is fun, and another of my favorites is the Galette des rois on January 6th when we get to eat a lot of cake!

You can learn all about “King Cake” here:

Bonnes fêtes!