How do we celebrate Advent in France?

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Advent in France is a time of waiting and preparing for Christmas. It lasts for four weeks, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. ‘Advent’ derives from the Latin ‘adventus’ meaning “coming”. In Europe, November is the first month of the year when the weather is usually dark and cold. If you have children, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren, you’re certainly be familiar with the Advent calendar and its 24 windows. Scroll down and you’ll discover an unusual calendar with 24 sites in Alsace-Lorraine to discover during Advent in France! I hope it will give you ideas of visits… or at least spike your curiosity!

 


What does it mean to celebrate Advent in France?

The period of the Advent represents the hope of Christmas, when light conquers and expels darkness. The preparation for Christmas during the four weeks of Advent in France makes the sad days of November into an exciting time, particularly for children.

Christmas at the Ecomusée d'Alsace © French Moments

Advent wreath at the Ecomusée d’Alsace © French Moments

Children mark the progression of the four last weeks before Christmas by opening one door per day on an Advent calendar, while at home and in churches, Advent wreaths are lit.


The tradition of the Advent calendar

(le calendrier de l’Avent)

Advent Calendar © French Moments

A paper Advent Calendar with chocolate inside! © French Moments

The Advent calendar has become a tradition in French homes today. They are mainly for children, for whom the countdown to Christmas is terribly exciting. Shops will sell mostly Advent calendars with 24 windows, behind which are chocolates or small toys. The calendars themselves are usually large rectangular cards, displaying a Christmas scene or a German-looking medieval town!

Advent Calendar © French Moments

A pointed Advent Calendar © French Moments

German Lutherans originally created the idea of Advent calendars in the 19th Century. The Austrian Landesmuseum dates the first printed Advent calendar to the beginner of the 20th century.


Why do we decorate our homes with Advent wreaths?

(la couronne de l’Avent)

Advent Wreath © French Moments

Advent Wreath © French Moments

The Advent wreath is made up of fir and pine tree branches for the first Sunday of Advent. It is traditionally knotted with beautiful red bows and decorated with pine or fir cones. Four candles top the Advent wreath, symbolising the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each candle is lit on each of the Sundays before Christmas. The last candle to be lit announces that Christmas is very near. Sometimes, the wreath decoration can also include holly, mistletoe and Christmas ornaments.

Christmas in Sélestat © French Moments

An advent wreath in a St Georges church, Sélestat © French Moments

The wreath usually decorates a table. It adorns front door or windows of a house as a decoration (without candles).

Symbolically the round form of the Advent wreath represents the sun and the promise that it will return after the winter season. As for the dominant green colour, it symbolises life, present in the rebirth which occurs at the beginning of spring.

The giant Advent wreath inside Strasbourg cathedral © French Moments

The giant Advent wreath inside Strasbourg cathedral © French Moments

The Advent candles meaning revealed!

The number of candles also relates to the four seasons and the four cardinal points. In addition, they also refer to four famous moments throughout the Old Testament which announced the coming of the Messiah and His salvation:

  • The first candle is the symbol of forgiveness Adam and Eve received.
  • The second candle evokes the faith of Abraham and the patriarchs to whom God gave the Promised Land.
  • The third candle is about the covenant with God, which causes King David to rejoice.
  • The last candle refers to the teaching of the prophets who announced a reign of justice and peace.
Wissembourg Christmas Market © French Moments

Advent wreaths and candles at the Wissembourg Christmas Market © French Moments

For Christians, the wreath is also an image to remind us of Christ wearing a crown of thorns on the day of the Crucifixion.


Advent in France

(l’Avent en France)

In many regions, Advent in France is the occasion for various and popular events.

  • In Lorraine, Alsace and in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the celebrations of Saint-Nicolas take place around 6 December with big shows, street parades and fireworks. This tradition of 6 December is also maintained in other areas of Northern and Eastern Europe.
Saint-Nicolas, Place Stanislas © French Moments

Saint-Nicolas on Place Stanislas, Nancy © French Moments

  • In Lyon, the Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières) has become the biggest event in town, when its monuments, hills and river banks are illuminated for four days.
Festival of Lights in Lyon © BELZUNCE Christian - licence [CC BY-SA 3

Festival of Lights in Lyon © BELZUNCE Christian – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

  • In Paris, the avenue des Champs-Elysées is traditionally lit up at the beginning of Advent, marking the start of a period of hectic Christmas shopping in the French capital.
Paris Ferris Wheel Place de la Concorde

Christmas on the Champs-Élysées © French Moments

  • In Provence, the Sainte Barbe (Saint Barbara) celebrations on 4 December are associated with an old Advent tradition.
Christmas in France - Nativity Scene Notre-Dame Paris

Nativity Scene of Notre-Dame in December 2016 © French Moments


The Preparations for Christmas in France

(les préparations de noël)

In France, the four weeks before Christmas is a period of great activity when everyone is focused on Christmas. The spirit of Christmas generosity is manifested by the purchase of gifts (les cadeaux), which are wrapped and hidden until 25 December. Crowds can be overwhelming in town centres, particularly in Paris near the Grands Magasins on Boulevard Haussmann.

Christmas on the Champs-Élysées, Paris © French Moments

Christmas on the Champs-Élysées, Paris © French Moments

Aside from the gifts, Christmas shopping also includes buying ornaments and decorations, food and other items which will be useful for the big dinner on Christmas Eve.

Christmas in France for kids!

Christmas is a time enjoyed by young and old – but especially by children! Craft activities are a way to prepare children for Christmas and to help them discover the meaning of the celebration. They can get inspired by visits to Christmas markets, department stores and churches (for the Nativity scenes) and by making their own Christmas decorations, such as ornaments, tinsels, garlands, etc.

Printemps Christmas Paris

Christmas Windows of Printemps Haussmann in 2016 © French Moments

The Advent period for Christians

For Christians, the period of Advent is a time of meditation for what Christ accomplished 2,000 years ago. If Christmas is considered as the greatest Christian celebration, it is because His coming to our world heralds His death on a cross on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Noëlies © French Moments

The Noëlies – Christmas concerts in Saverne, Alsace © French Moments


The Advent Calendar of 24 Christmas Sites in Alsace-Lorraine !

Here’s a rather unusual Calendar for Advent in France…

24 Days to discover the most beautiful Christmas sites in Alsace-Lorraine. Enjoy the visit!

1. Thann

The South Gate to the Alsace Wine Route. Thann is famous for its little Christmas market decorated with fir trees.

Marché de Noël de Thann © French Moments

Christmas in Thann © French Moments

>> Discover the Thann Christmas market on the blog <<

2. Guebwiller

At Guebwiller, one celebrates a “Noël bleu”, that is “a Blue Christmas”.

L'Alsace à Noël (Guebwiller) © French Moments

Noël Bleu in Guebwiller © French Moments

3. Saverne

In Saverne, Advent in France implies beautiful illuminations on the façades of the main street.

Féérie d'Hiver à Saverne © French Moments

Saverne © French Moments

4. Altkirch

Altkirch, the capitale of the Sundgau, welcomes an enchanted forest in its town-centre.

Forêt Enchantée d'Altkirch Sundgau

The Enchanted Forest in Altkirch © French Moments

>> Discover the Enchanted Forest in Altkirch on the blog <<

5. Strasbourg (Petite-France district)

The picturesque district of Petite France in Strasbourg gathers some fine half-timbered houses, beautifully decorated at Christmas time.

Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, Strasbourg à Noël © French Moments

Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, Strasbourg © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Strasbourg <<

6. Nancy (Marché de St Nicolas)

The Saint-Nicolas market occupies Place Charles III. It’s the name given to the Christmas market of Nancy, in honour to Lorraine’s patron saint.

Noël à Nancy © French Moments

 St Nicolas market in Nancy © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Nancy <<

7.  Colmar (Petite-Venise)

The Little Venice district is one of the most picturesque in Colmar. With fine half-timbered houses bordering the canal, it’s pure enchantment at night-fall.

Quai de la Poissonnerie, Petite Venise de Colmar © French Moments

Little Venice district, Colmar © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Colmar <<

8. Ecomusée d’Alsace

Come to the Ecomusée d’Alsace (France’s largest open-air museum) to experience a Yesteryear Christmas.

Un Noël d'antan à l'Ecomusée d'Alsace © French Moments

Christmas at the Ecomusée d’Alsace © French Moments

>> Discover the Ecomusée d’Alsace on the blog <<

9. Metz (Trail of Lanterns)

It’s become a tradition… and a must-see site in Metz. Each year the Trail of Lanterns offer a fairy-tale atmosphere to its visitors, young and old alike!

Le Sentier des Lanternes de Metz © French Moments

The Trail of Lanterns, Metz © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Metz <<

10. Ribeauvillé

The little town of Ribeauvillé hosts an authentic medieval Christmas market during two weeks of Advent in France.

Ribeauvillé Christmas Market © Office de Tourisme Pays de Ribeauvillé-Riquewihr

Ribeauvillé Christmas Market © Office de Tourisme Pays de Ribeauvillé-Riquewihr

>> Discover the Ribeauvillé Christmas market on the blog <<

11. Kaysersberg

Kaysersberg was one of the first towns in Alsace and France to open an authentic Christmas market in the 1980s. It’s proven a real success… the market is open during the four weekends of Advent.

Maison du Forgeron Michel Herzer Kaysersberg

Christmas in Kaysersberg © French Moments

>> Discover the Kaysersberg Christmas market on the blog <<

12. Haguenau

The little city of Alsace prides itself with beautiful illuminations and Christmas decorations. Its stunning Christmas market is a must-see in the region.

13. Strasbourg (Rue des Orfèvres)

The narrow street of rue des Orfèvres displays astonishing Christmas decorations put together by the association of local traders of Carré d’Or.

La rue des Orfèvres à Strasbourg © French Moments

Rue des Orfèvres, Strasbourg © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Strasbourg <<

14. Obernai

“In Obernai, Dream about Christmas!”, says the promotional slogan. Well it says it all and yes, it’s worth a visit! Not only for the Christmas lights, but also for its Christmas market and local mulled wine made-in Obernai!

Marché de Noël d'Obernai © French Moments

Obernai Christmas market © French Moments

>> Discover the Obernai Christmas market on the blog <<

15. Riquewihr

The Gem of the Alsace vineyards has everything it takes to offer an unforgettable Christmas visit. This is one of France’s most beautiful villages and its Christmas market is a real success among locals and foreigners.

marché de Noël de Riquewihr

Christmas in Riquewihr © French Moments

>> Discover the Riquewihr Christmas market on the blog <<

16. Sélestat

This is the birthplace of the Christmas tree. It was here that it was mentioned for the first time in 1521 in the city’s records.

>> Discover the Sélestat Christmas market on the blog <<

17. Eguisheim

One of France’s most beautiful villages… and one of the country’s finest Christmas market. Although small in size compared to neighbouring Colmar, needless to say its picturesque setting offers a fairy-tale atmosphere…

Marché de Noël d'Éguisheim

Christmas in Éguisheim © French Moments

>> Discover the Eguisheim Christmas market on the blog <<

18. Strasbourg (Christmas market)

The Strasbourg Christmas market is France’s most famous festive event. In 2019 it celebrates its 450th edition (it was created in the 16th c).

Le marché de Noël de la place de la Cathédrale à Strasbourg © French Moments

Christmas market in Strasbourg © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Strasbourg <<

19. Wissembourg

At the northern tip of Alsace, the little town of Wissembourg hosts an authentic Christmas market during the four weekends of Advent in France.

20. Nancy (place Stanislas)

During Advent in France, the famous royal square of Place Stanislas is adorned with a majestic Christmas tree.

Place Stanislas, Noël à Nancy © French Moments

Place Stanislas, Nancy © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Nancy <<

21. Mulhouse

As the third largest Christmas market in Alsace, Mulhouse is a mind-blowing destination for Christmas! The Alsace town is known for its Christmas market dominated by a Ferris Wheel, and rich fabric renewed each year.

>> Discover the Mulhouse Christmas market on the blog <<

22. Metz (Christmas market)

In Metz, people are Christmas savvy for sure! No less than 5 Christmas markets are spread across the old town. On top of that, the majestic Gothic cathedral St-Etienne celebrates in 2020 its 800th anniversary…

23. Colmar (Christmas market)

“The magic of Christmas in Colmar”. This is how the festive season is promoted in Colmar. With 5 Christmas markets, amazing decorations and fantastic setting of the old town, there’s so much to see in Colmar. What could we ask for more?

24. Strasbourg (Christmas tree)

Here’s the last window of our Advent Calendar. And I chose to end with the famous Christmas tree on place Kléber. This is the symbol of the season of Advent in France.

Le marché de Noël de Strasbourg © French Moments

Strasbourg’s Christmas tree on place Kléber © French Moments

>> Read my Discover Guide of Christmas in Strasbourg <<

Wishing you all a ‘Joyeux Noël’ !


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

2 Comments

  1. Jim Cardinal on

    Very nice indeed. You made me think of my grannie. Years ago, whenever I would visit her I would promise to learn French, her native tongue. That was always her Christmas wish because her children were taught to learn English. I don’t know why this made me think of her, but there it is. Anyway, this Advent, I am learning. Thanks for sharing your French pictures to people!

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