A quick search on Wikipedia, or a couple of glasses of wine with your European friends and you’ll quickly realise that not everyone celebrates Christmas, exactly the same way. This was not new information for me. Like all aspects of culture, of course there has to be variations but I didn’t know quite how much.
Santa Claus is red because of Coca Cola. Yes, this I knew but I was surprised and sad when I found out (a couple of years ago,). Christmas day is actually on the 15th of December in Holland and rather than coming from the North Pole, Santa is Spanish. That’s right, Spanish. He comes to Holland on a boat and gives the good kids oranges and steals the bad kids. I’m happy with our Anglo traditions. It would seem that we took the scarier Dutch version and made a happier, more magical version.
But what about France?
Well, they do a lot of stuff like us in Britain. Most of their traditions come from Germany and Austria. They put Christmas trees in their houses. Originally they were decorated with apples and pears and other kinds of fruit but from the 1830’s they became nationally popular (I think this was a little bit before Britain, as it was during the reign of Queen Victoria when this happened in the UK).
Virtually every town has a Christmas market with the city of Strasbourg claiming to the have the oldest. Most of the large ones in Paris are open every day of the week. In the smaller towns or the Parisian suburbs, you can expect them to only be open during the weekend.
I suppose the major difference, is the 24th of December. It’s still regarded as a Christmas Eve and the 25th is Christmas Day, but the 24th seems to be more important. The French sit down for a dinner on the evening of the 24th, whereas we tend to have our Christmas feast the next day. This dinner is probably the most important dinner of the year and can sometimes last up to 6 hours long, with some delicious food.
Santa Claus comes on the same day as the UK and smaller children put out their Christmas stocking but older children and adults tend to open their presents on the 24th of December at midnight.
Mass is still an important part of Christmas in France. Although, fewer and fewer people are religious, the Christmas holidays do tend to draw in the crowds, particularly for the carol singing. Whether you are religious or not, if you are celebrating Christmas in France this year, you should check out your local church.
Finally, the food. It is pretty similar to what we eat. Turkey is a popular option although, I like to also cook Goose on some alternating years. Foie gras, an expensive type of liver pate is also popular and don’t forget to try Buche de Noel.