French traditions during the holiday season

Les traditions françaises

As in many other countries, the months of December and January in France are a succession of parties and family reunions. The French celebrate this time of year with many religious — but also secular — traditions. Today we offer you a chance to (re)discover some of these French traditions from the holiday season and Christmas vocabulary.

Christmas (Noël)

Although France is a secular country, Christmas is still a national holiday and a widely celebrated tradition, even in non-religious homes. This is a great tradition that each family revisits and adapts in its own way. On this occasion, a Christmas tree decorated with baubles and garlands is installed in the living room, along with a crèche representing the Nativity scene. Christmas Eve is celebrated around a big family meal on the evening of December the 24th, after which Christians attend the Midnight Mass. Christmas gifts are distributed after dinner or in the morning of the 25th for children. No Christmas is complete without various desserts.

Father Christmas (Père Noël)

Le Père Noël is an imaginary character. He is the one bringing children their presents. Aided by his elves, he puts all those presents in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. During the night between December the 24th and 25th, he travels the skies and slides down each single chimney to drop children’s presents under the Christmas tree.

The santons of Provence

In Provence, the crèches are a great tradition. The santons are the figurines that can be found in those Nativity scenes. Made of clay and painted with bright colors, the santons are a true Provencal know-how! In addition to the Nativity, the Provencal crèches can also depict scenes of everyday life in Provence, and represent traditional characters and professions of the region such as the boulanger (baker), or the maire (mayor).

The New Year

Bonne Année! The New Year is a secular party celebrating the first day of the year: January 1st. The festivities begin the previous day, on December the 31st, also known as Saint Sylvester’s day. Traditionally, the French decorate their homes with mistletoe, a plant symbolizing happiness. At midnight, when the clock strikes, people exchange a bise (a greeting kiss on the cheek) and wish one another a good year and a good health!


The Epiphany is a Catholic holiday that is widely celebrated in France, even by non-believers. This Christian tradition commemorates the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus. Celebrated on January the 6th (or the first Sunday after the New Year), it is also commonly called "Jour de la Galette des Rois" (Kings cake day). Since the Middle Ages, the French celebrate by sharing a cake in which is hidden a fève, a miniature porcelain figurine. The person who gets the slice of cake with the fève is named king or queen and receives a crown! We hope you have enjoyed this article. And to follow on with French traditions, we wish you “de Bonnes Fêtes”, a “Joyeux Noël,” and a “Bonne Année!”

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