In French, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Joyeux Noël'. In Breton (spoken by some people in Brittany, Northern France) it's 'Nedeleg Laouen' and in Corsican (spoken by people in Corsica) it's 'Bon Natale'.
Le Père Noël
Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called 'Père Noël' (Father Christmas). In eastern France, he is accompanied by 'Le Pere Fouettard' (Father Whipper) a man dressed in black who accompanies St. Nicholas in his rounds during St. Nicholas' Day (6 December) dispensing lumps of coal and/or floggings to the naughty children while St. Nick gives gifts to the well behaved.
=> Listen and sing some French Christmas songs :
La crèche de Noël
A 'crèche de Noël' (Nativity crib) is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them. During December some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest!
Le réveillon de Noël
The main Christmas meal, called 'Le Réveillon', is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, snails, foie gras (yummy!) and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called 'la bûche de Noël' (Yule log) is normally eaten. Here is a recipe ;-)
La bûche de Noël
The 'bûche de Noël' has a rich history full of symbolism. The Yule Log sprang from the ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the Winter Solstice by locating and retrieving an enormous tree trunk and burning it on the shortest day of the year. The act was a way to celebrate the rebirth of the sun as well as give thanks for the warmth and life it would bring with it. The earliest Yule Log in France can be traced back to Celtic Brittany. In the 12th century, the ceremony became more elaborate. Families would haul home enormous logs and in some regions, the youngest child was allowed to ride the log home. As families dragged their logs home, passers by would raise their hats because they knew the log was full of good promises and its flame would burn out old wrongs.
In French culture, this revised 'bûche de Noël' tradition is believed to have stemmed from a medieval feudal tax taken at Christmas times called the “right of the log.” Peasants were required to bring a large piece of wood to the feudal lord’s manor house. Years later, they began doing it for their own homes. They blessed the log, decorated it with ribbons and greenery, and sometimes sprinkled salt, oil, and wine on it before burning it for several days.
There are a couple of stories about where the cake originated. But the best story has to do with Napoleon I. During his reign, Napoleon realized there was a lot of disease in Paris. His solution was to mandate that all chimneys must remain closed during the winter months because the cold air was causing all this inconvenient illness. With chimneys closed, there was no way for the air to get in. People had no way to burn their traditional 'bûche de Noël'. So a Parisian baker got creative and invented the cake as a symbolic alternative of the actual piece of wood. The earliest recipe is in a cookbook called Le Mèmorial Historique et Gèographique de la Pâtisserie by a Parisian pastry chef, Pierre Lacam, published in 1898.
=> Check out some nice Christmas recipe ;-)
Le calendrier de l’Avent
Advent Calendars are of course given to eager French children in anticipation of Christmas and are filled with toys and/or chocolates. At Christmas time, the local postman or fire fighter will knock on every door, selling calendars for the coming New Year.
Le sapin de Noël
In France, the Christmas tree first appeared in Alsace in 1521 and is called 'sapin de noël' or 'arbre de noël'. The tree, covered in red apples and lights, symbolised the venue of Christ: ‘the light that illuminates the world’. A fir tree is the best choice because they do not lose their leaves during winter, which doubles as a symbol of hope and eternal life. It is a more secular tradition than that of the nativity and thus more appreciated by protestant countries such as northern Germany and Scandinavia. If you are in Paris during Christmas time, don't miss the 'sapin de noel' inside the famous upmarket French department store, 'Galeries Lafayette', on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.
Les marchés de Noël
All French Christmas markets find their origins in Alsace. Indeed the proximity of the region to Germany gives Alsatian and French Christmas markets a distinctly Germanic touch. This is apparent in the structure of the market stalls, which are little wooden houses resembling mountain chalets, covered in lights and decorations. The oldest Christmas market in Europe is that of Strasbourg (see picture below), which dates back to 1570. Christmas markets mainly sell Christmas products or sometimes Christmas gifts. They can now be found all over France, with their distinctive wooden chalets (Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Colmar, Mulhouse etc.).
=> Check out the best Christmas markets accross France in 2016!
more Christmas Vocabulary!
Je vous souhaite à tous un Joyeux Noël!
(I wish you all a Merry Christmas!)