Noël en France
'Merry Christmas' in French is 'Joyeux Noël.' Father Christmas is le Père Noël. If you are going to send him a letter then it should begin:- Cher Père Noël, ....
In the North East of France, Christmas celebrations begin on the 6 December - also known as Saint Nicholas' Day.
The celebrations take place because, once upon a time there were three children who got lost in the countryside. A wicked butcher kidnapped them.
Luckily, Saint Nicolas rescued the children and returned them to their parents. This is why Saint Nicholas is known as the protector of children. Another name for him is Santa Claus!
On the night of 5 December (the eve of Saint Nicholas) children place their shoes at the entrance to their house. They also leave a carrot and a sugar lump for Saint Nicholas' donkey. During the night, the saint arrives bringing treats for the children to find in their shoes in the morning.
There is also a scary (but fun) character called le Père Fouettard. He represents the wicked butcher who kidnapped the children. Le Père Fouettard follows Saint Nicholas, carries a whip and is dressed in black. The name le Père Fouettard comes from the word for 'the whip.'
le fouet = the whip.
Below is a traditional song for la Saint-Nicolas.
The words to the song are:-
Il était trois petits enfants
There were three little children
Qui s'en allaient glaner aux champs.
Who would go to gather grain in the fields.
S'en vinrent un soir chez un boucher.
They came across a butcher's house one evening.
"Boucher, voudrais-tu nous coucher?"
"Butcher, can we sleep at your house?"
"Entrez, entrez, petits enfants.
"Come in, come in, little children.
Il y a de la place assurément!"
Of course there is room!"
One of the most important places for les festivités de la Saint-Nicolas is a town named after the saint.
It is called Saint-Nicolas-de-Port because the saint's relics are kept in the town's basilica.
Below is a photo of Saint Nicolas with Père Fouettard. Also, an image of the traditional gingerbread - le pain d'épices - that is made in the shape of Saint Nicholas.
In the city of Lyon there is a wonderful Festival of Lights. It is called la Fête des Lumières. It is a four-day festival taking place around the 8 December.
Why does it take place at this time?
In France, the 8 December is a celebration in honour of the Virgin Mary - la Vierge Marie. In Lyon, during this festival, there are amazing, artistic light shows illuminating the buildings. Below is an image of the city's cathedral, dressed in coloured light.
An important French tradition is to display une crèche somewhere in your home. This tradition is most popular in the region of Provence.
La crèche is a pretty arrangement of little buildings and figurines surrounding the Christmas crib. The figurines are called santons and they include:-
the Baby Jesus - l'Enfant Jésus
Mary and Joseph - Marie et Joseph
the shepherds - les bergers
the angels - les anges
the Three Kings - les Rois Mages
the animals - les animaux
the village people - les habitants d'un village
In la crèche, the figurines of the village people represent lots of different professions, for example:-
le boulanger - the baker
le fermier - the farmer
le chasseur - the hunter
la lavandière - the laundry maid
There is also a figurine called le ravi, meaning 'the delighted one', and he always has his arms raised to express his delight. Everybody is welcoming the Baby Jesus!
Some figurines are placed in la crèche later than the others:- The figurine of Baby Jesus is placed in His manger on Christmas Day. The figurines of the Three Kings appear on the night of 5 January.
You can read a Christmas poem about village people here.
La veille de Noël is Christmas Eve. The night of Christmas Eve is also called la nuit de Noël.
On the night of Christmas Eve, there is a special meal to celebrate the very beginning of Christmas Day. This traditional Christmas Eve dinner is called le réveillon de Noël.
Joyeux Noël et bon appétit!
In the region of Provence, it is the tradition to serve thirteen desserts at the end of the Christmas Eve dinner. They are known as les treize desserts or les calenos. The number 13 represents Jesus and His twelve disciples. The desserts are set out on the table where they remain for three days.
Two of the thirteen traditional desserts are called le gibassier and la pompe à l'huile d'olive. They are a type of flat brioche containing olive oil and flavoured with aniseed, orange or lemon. Another traditional item is le nougat which is served in two colours: le nougat blanc (white nougat) and le nougat noir (black nougat). You can read more about this tradition here.
French children leave their shoes out in front of the fireplace - la cheminée, or around the Christmas tree - le sapin de Noël. When they awake on Christmas Day, they hope to find that le Père Noël has visited and that the shoes (les souliers) are filled and surrounded by gifts - des cadeaux.
Le soulier de Noël - the traditional French version of the Christmas stocking (The French words actually say 'the Christmas shoe.')
Nowadays, you will also find: la chaussette de Noël - the Christmas sock/stocking and la botte de Noël - the Christmas boot