The celebrations of Christmas in Lorraine

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Christmas in Lorraine consists of traditions centred around the character of St. Nicholas, locally known as Saint-Nicolas. In Nancy the Patron saint of Lorraine is at the centre of a 40 day celebration with a big parade organised early December. The Vosges mountains with their towering fir trees offer great skiing opportunities while in Metz, a Christmas market – one of the largest in France! – provides a magical atmosphere for the Holiday Season.


The tradition of Saint-Nicolas in Lorraine

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Saint Nicolas’ Day is mainly celebrated in north-eastern France, in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine. Other celebrating countries in Europe include Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. Saint Nicolas’ celebrations are usually on the 6th December, in commemoration of his death.

Long gone are the days when children used to leave a glass of eau de vie and a plate of carrots for the Saint and his donkey by the fireplace. The days when Saint Nicolas was the sole distributor of the presents are also fading! Today, his American descendant Santa Claus (Père Noël) has stolen this role from him. In most towns of North-East France, Saint Nicolas has now retroceded into a giver of lollies and sweets on the 6th December with Santa Claus then giving presents the night before Christmas.

Read more about Saint-Nicolas.


Saint-Nicolas Celebrations in Nancy

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In Nancy the festive season starts with the Saint-Nicolas celebrations. They last 40 days from the end of November to early January. The capital of the Dukes of Lorraine has been placed under the patronage of Saint-Nicolas from 1477. That year, Duke René II won the Battle of Nancy against his rival, Charles the Bold, the powerful duke of Burgundy.

The popular celebrations of Saint-Nicolas are currently is in the process of being listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

40 days of celebrations and one festive weekend

Each year, around the 6th December more than 25,000 people gather in the Place Stanislas for one of Lorraine’s major events. The Saint-Nicolas celebrations in Nancy are usually held on the first Saturday of December, around the 6th, which is the actual Saint’s day for the Patron Saint of Lorraine.

From 3pm, several artistic associations stroll along the streets of the town centre. Their role is to increase the expectation of Saint-Nicolas’ coming, in a festive and playful atmosphere. Some lucky people may encounter Saint Nicolas at the Christmas market.

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Once the Saint Nicolas’ Day celebrations are over, the Christmas season is not done in Nancy. Until the New Year, several activities and events are organised to maintain the magic around the character of Saint Nicolas, the ancestor of the now-famous Santa!

The delightful Place Stanislas is enhanced by a magnificent Christmas Tree in its centre, in addition to other illuminations on Place de la Carrière and along the Grand’Rue in the old town.

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On Place Charles III, a Christmas village is temporarily set up in December as a Christmas market. The chalets offers snacks, waffles, mulled wines, as well as gift ideas for Christmas.

Read more about Christmas in Nancy.


The Christmas Markets in Metz

Metz Christmas market © Philippe Gisselbrecht / Office de Tourisme Metz

For the past 15 years, the Christmas market in Metz, Lorraine has become the second largest Christmas market in France in terms of visitors, welcoming up to 3 million people. From 2010, Metz went the extra-mile, hosting a Christmas market spread over 5 sites: Place de la République, Place Saint Louis, Place de la Gare, Place Saint-Jacques and rue des Clercs.

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Place de la République features the highest panoramic wheel in Europe (60 m high), a giant ice-skating rink (1,000 m2), a magical Christmas tree and a village made up of châlets (stalls) while the traditional Christmas market in Place Saint Louis includes a double-decker merry-go-round and 90 châlets set amidst the medieval houses bordering the square.

Read more about Christmas in Metz.


English-French Vocabulary

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(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin and (v) for verbs

  • Advent = Avent (m)
  • Christmas = Noël (m)
  • Christmas Eve = réveillon (m)
  • Christmas market = marché de Noël (m)
  • Christmas night = nuit de Noël (f)
  • Christmas Tree = sapin de Noël (m), arbre de Noël (m)
  • craftsman = artisan (m)
  • Father Christmas = Père Noël (m)
  • holiday season = période de Noël (f), temps des fêtes (m)
  • ice-skating rink = patinoire (f)
  • illumination = illumination (f)
  • merry-go-round = manège (m)
  • present = cadeau (m)
  • Santa Claus = Père Noël (m)
  • square = place (f)
  • St. Nicholas = Saint Nicolas (m)
  • tradition = tradition (f)

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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.

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