Holiday Traditions in France

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Ed Cochrane, Sport Editor

France celebrates its winter holidays just like the rest of the world but with a few unique twists. Although some French traditions are celebrated universally throughout France there are still many traditions practiced only in specific regions. France has its own name for Christmas, “Noel,” which roughly translates into “the good news,” and derives from French scripture.

In France, children leave their shoes out on Christmas Eve to be filled by Pere Noel (the French Santa, whose name translates into Father Christmas). In the morning, gifts of fruit, nuts, and small toys hopefully laid under the tree. Bad children are visited by Pere Fouettard (the equivalent of Santa’s evil twin) and receive spankings. Most French families also take part in Le Revellion, a feast of great quality and proportion. Le Reveillon symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The contents of this epic feast usually include goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, and oysters. Once the meal is finished it is customary to leave a candle burning at the table.

One classic dessert in France during the holiday season is the Yule log which is a cake shaped like a log composed of chocolate and chestnuts and is meant to resemble the log people burn as a symbol of good fortune for their crops in the south of France. Le Pain Calendal is a dessert bread often gifted to the poor of France. La Gallete des Rois is a cake with a hidden charm inside; whoever finds the charm gets the privilege of ordering family members around for the rest of the day. Christmas decorations often include Le Sapin de Noel the primary decoration in homes and businesses across France.

In the northern and eastern regions of France people celebrate Christmas on December 6. This Christmas season is called la fête de Saint Nicolas, meaning the Feast of St. Nicholas, or in some regions la fête des Rois (kings), which can also be celebrated on January 1 or 6 in some households. In the French city of Lyon they celebrate Christmas on December 8 with a tradition called la Fête de lumières, where the entire city places candles on their balconies in remembrance of the Virgin Mary.

A common tradition in France mostly practiced by farmers in the south of France consists of burning a log partially, with the un-charred remains symbolizing good fortune for their crops in the upcoming year. This tradition’s origin is in Italy where it is called “Il Natale” or “The Birthday”.