How does Christmas in France differ to the UK?
My eldest daughter lost another tooth last week, which led to a discussion about who was coming to exchange to the tooth for money. Was it the tooth fairy, as per the British tradition, or was it the little mouse (la petite souris), as per the tradition in France? This got me thinking about other slight variations on traditions in France and the UK. With Christmas looming, I decided to explore the differences in the festive period between these two countries.
In both countries, Christmas has religious roots and is centered around family, friends, food and gift sharing. Christmas trees and decorations are common in both cultures, although nativity scenes (le crèche) are more common in homes in France as they are a very traditional French Christmas symbol / decoration.
So how does Christmas in France differ to the UK?
- Christmas carols are not common place in France. You may hear a few Christmas classics on the radio, but not to the extent that you would in the UK.
- The French tend to have their main family gathering on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. However, it often rolls over into the early hours of the morning. The French often eat a meal very late at night which they call ‘la reveillon’. This is a big long feast. It tends to include oysters, foie gras, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, duck, caviar, escargots, smoked salmon, scallops and lobster, although there may be some regional variations. Dessert is usually a Bûche de Noël which is the French version of a Yule log. There is of course plenty of wine and champagne too.
- Christmas crackers and mince pies do not feature in France.
- Christmas fairs and markets are common across France, much more so than in the UK. They sell everything from wine and local culinary delicacies, to gifts and crafts. French people are often more likely to buy their gifts from small speciality stores, than big monopolising companies. Having said this, I have noticed that a lot more British people are making more of an effort to buy from small business; especially in light of the pandemic.
- Gifts are usually exchanged between friends and family on Christmas Eve during ‘la reveillon’. In France, children leave their shoes by the fireplace or the door for ‘Pere Noel’, whereas the British tradition is to have a stocking. Santa places the gifts in the shoes and around the Christmas tree and the children usually receive these on Christmas morning.
- The French don’t usually send Christmas cards. However, they may send a New year card saying ‘Bonnes Fêtes’ (happy holidays) or ‘Bonne Année’ (happy new year).
- This may be sightly controversial, but I have noticed that French children seem to stop ‘believing’ at a much younger age. At 5 years old, my eldest daughter came home and told me that one of the boys in her class said that Santa wasn’t real! My flabbergasted reaction was so genuine that she didn’t have any further doubts. However, I’ve also heard of teachers spilling the beans to children as young as six! I’ve observed that they seem to be a lot more matter of fact about it here in France!
8. There is no nativity play at school. This is because the public schools do not teach religion in France.
9. The French do not celebrate Boxing Day. It is not even a public holiday!
10. Overall, Christmas is less commercial than in the UK, although lavish displays, elaborate decorations and traditions are still in abundance. However, there seems to be less excessiveness around present giving in France compared to the UK.
As a British family living in France, we still follow British traditions, as the childhood magic of Christmas and its associations seem to be engrained in us. When you live in a ski resort, noticing how Christmas traditions differ between the UK and France isn’t always obvious. Perhaps this is because a ski resort often has a slightly multicultural feel, with lots of twinkling lights and trees decorated for tourism purposes. Or perhaps its because Christmas time is one of the busiest weeks of the season. Many people work everyday of the holidays, including Christmas Day, so amongst all the hustle and bustle observations are overlooked.
Are you are interested in other French lifestyle topics? If so, please subscribe to our blog. Click the following link if you would like to learn about differences in schooling between France and the UK? Have you noticed any other differences in Christmas traditions between the UK and France, or in any other countries? I’d love to hear about them.