Christmas is an annual festival that is popular across the world and it is used to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated in different parts of the world and is primarily celebrated on the 25th of December.  It is a religious celebration that is celebrated by billions of people across the world. I am going to share with you some secrets of Christmas in France!

But first, some intricacies of Christmas itself:

Christmas is central to the Christian liturgical year and it is often preceded by nativity fast or the season of advent and this brings in the Christmas celebration period. 

In many countries across the globe, Christmas Day is a public holiday and it is celebrated majorly by many Christians as well as non-Christians across the world. It is an important holiday that forms part of the culture in the modern world. The traditional Christmas celebrations will vary depending on the region that you are going to visit.

If you love Christmas then France is the best country that you can visit because it is a pristine location that will take your vacation and Christmas holiday to a new level. France has unique features which include magical Christmas markets, scrumptious feasts, beautiful decorations, and charming traditions.

Christmas is one of the best experiences during your visit to France. Now, I am going to share more about the local Christmas traditions and customs which will take your experience to a new level.

Christmas customs and traditions in France

The customs and traditions of Christmas in France originate from the Middle East. These cultures were first introduced to the country by the Romans.

Reims was the first location where Christmas celebrations took place in the country and ever since the traditions have spread across the country, this was in the year 496

According to history, Clovis and his 3000 warriors were baptized and bishop Remi chose the day of nativity as the day for the ceremony.  Other vital events continued taking place during the period and it made it easy for people in France to adopt Christmas because it represented many people across the country

Charlemagne was gifted a crown by Pope Leo the Third in 800 and since then the French adopted a more Christianized version and the traditions that came with it. Over the years people in the country began adopting the Christian Christmas celebration traditions. It became a religious and secular celebration which in turn became more prominent.

It is an event for merrymaking, having friends and family around and it is welcomed by both children and adults.

Visiting France soon? Make sure to read some of our main resources from France:

Without further ado, let’s delve deeper into the customs and traditions of the French winter holiday season!

Christmas tree in France

A Christmas tree is the symbol of the holiday in France.

The tradition of putting up a Christmas tree in France began centuries ago. In the year 1605, the French city of Strasbourg was the first to put up a Christmas tree decorated with apples, sugar, and roses. This was a major symbol as many people across the country began embracing the concept of having a Christmas tree in their houses. 

In the modern era in France, you will find that many cities across the country compete with one another for their animated displays of Christmas figures and exhibits which are exceptional to people visiting as well as the locals.

People often begin purchasing their Christmas supplies before the holiday begins. In many locations across the country, people often go to get a Christmas tree in the forest. The most common tree that you will find in the region is spruce or fir. It is important to note that this is more prevalent in the rural parts of the country.

However, since many people live in urban areas, you will find that people purchase trees from vendors across the country.  Once the tree is purchased, they will go ahead and decorate it on Christmas Eve. The job of decorating the tree is often left to the younger members of the family. They will often decorate it with candles, lights, and tinsel.

Stars are often attached to the Christmas tree.  This is important because it gives it the authenticity that it requires.  On Christmas Eve the children will hang little toys, candies, and shoes to supplement the gift. Shoes are left by the fireplace during this period and it is believed that Santa Claus will come and place his gifts there.

Further reading: Christmas in Lithuania

La creche 

La Creche is one of the most popular Christmas features in France.

The manger or la creche, as it is popularly known in France, is one of the most common Christmas themes and features in France. It is important to note that these customs originate back from the 12th century and ever since it has become part and parcel of the Christmas celebrations in the country. 

The liturgical aspects of the manger have since become an important part of the Christmas traditions of the French people.  The manger resembles an altar and it is placed on either side of the church. During your travel across France, you will notice that you will find antique mangers across the country.

This is an essential part of the process because the people in different parts of the country still hold the Christmas tradition dearly and you will find them putting the mangers in their local churches.  Some of the local museums where you are going to find these mangers are in Orleans and Marseilles.

The most popular manger in the country was introduced in Avignon by the St. Francis of Assisi family in the 13th century. Ever since, the tradition spread across the country and you will find people across the country embracing it.

In the modern era, you will find families arranging a small manger in the house. It is common for children to bring branches, rocks, and moss to give it the perfect manger look.  There are little figures called santons which are set around the manger and these usually represent the holy family. 

In some cases, you will find other characters of nativity, and people across the country embrace this concept wholeheartedly.  You will find the santons in various markets around the country and if you are into decorating for Christmas then you can purchase your Christmas tree from the local store and these figurines as well.

Further reading: Christmas in Iceland

The Réveillon and midnight mass

The midnight mass is one of the most common features in France and during your trip to the region you are going to find thousands of people thronging the church on Christmas Eve. The cathedrals and churches, small or large, are often filled with people who magnificently light up the churches with Christmas carols, carillons, and melodies.

You will find that in many of these churches, there is always a la creche, while in ancient times they used to place a child in the manger. Currently, this practice is no longer done. Once the people are done with Christmas Eve in the region, they will have a late supper called le reveillon, unlike in other countries where people will eat first before attending the church mass.

Depending on the region that you are going to visit, you should know and apply the local traditions there. The meals will vary from one region to another depending on the available resources.

In parts of Alsace, you will find that the traditional goose is cooked, while in Burgundy they serve turkey with chestnuts. All these vary with the region that you are going to visit and the diversity of the meals is also common in the different parts of the country.

The Parisians usually love foie gras and oysters as well as a cake in the form of a yule log. There are also various categories of wines served during this period.

Christmas Day in France

Christmas gifts wrapped under the Christmas tree.

In most parts of France, you will find that the children will not attend the mass. However, on Christmas day everything comes to life as the kids are out and they are waiting to see their gifts from the shoes that they put beside the fireplace.  It is believed that le Pere Noel will leave gifts for them in their shoes.

Currently, all kinds of shoes can be put by the fireplace for Pere Noel to put the presents in. In some parts of the country, you will find that chocolate wooden shoes which are made by the many pastry shops around the country are filled with candies. They are often filled with presents from Santa Claus.

It is essential to note that the traditions have changed over the years and you can find that some of the parishes usually hold a morning Christmas mass and people often attend before going for lunch with their friends and family.

Further reading: Christmas in Liechtenstein

Christmas carols in France

Christmas carols are some of the most common themes around France and when you visit the country you are going to see some of the most legendary songs in the region.

The Christmas carols were sung from the 15th century and ever since they have become part of the liturgical drama and presentations. A collection of these rustic songs has begun reappearing over the years.  

Christmas songs have become more common in various parts of the country. There are famous characters and you will find people from various backgrounds singing songs about them.  Christmas is an exceptional time in the region and they will combine the best Christmas carols and creches as well as the liturgical dramas.

The songs are performed in various cathedrals and even in theaters and it is perfect for you to see some of the performances around in France. In most cases, you will find that the performances in theaters are often associated with the stories of the bile and the mysteries are presented on stage and in real settings. 

There are puppet shows across different parts of the country and you will find them in Lyon and Paris. It is the most popular carol theme in France.

Christmas legends and customs in France

There are various customs and legends associated with Christmas in France. Depending on the region you visit, it is important to note that there are Christmas legends and customs followed or practiced in different parts of the country.

Some of the parts of the country that you will find the tradition include Alsace where there are marches de noel and Christmas markets.

In some rural communities, you will find that the shepherd offers a lamb for Christma. In other areas, reveillon is held in the snow-capped mountains. 

Among many communities across France, Christmas Eve meals are often shared among friends and families. During your travels to France, you can learn some of the features that make the traditions in the region exceptional.

Further reading: Christmas in Switzerland


The advent calendar is an important part of the winter holiday season in France.

This is the most common and popular holiday in different parts of the country. The festive cheer begins with advent before December and this happens at the last week of November or early December

This is a popular theme around different around the country and the advent calendars usually have dates from the first of December through the 24th of December. Each day, people mark it on the calendar as they await Christmas Eve. 

People will open their first window on December 1st and this tradition carries on until the 24th of December.  The advent calendars usually have chocolates treats behind the door until Christmas day and it is a common practice in different parts of France for people to wait for Christmas excitedly.

Depending on the region that you visit, you can purchase advent calendars for adults. This way you can join in the party of waiting for Christmas. Some of the advent calendars for adults have candles, wine, and chocolates among other gifts that allow people to wait for Christmas Eve.

Depending on the time that you are visiting you will learn more about these traditions from the locals.

Aurimas Bio

Hi there! I’m Aurimas, a man behind Go Look Explore. I’m passionate about hiking, exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, and everything outdoors related. Let’s connect.