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Last Updated: 14 December 2023

How do the French celebrate Christmas? I’m glad you asked it… for there is much to say about one of my favourite topics! Did you know that the French traditions of Christmas play an integral part in celebrating the birth of Jesus in France?

Well, the festive season consists of many favourite customs such as the Christmas tree, the chocolate bûche, the Père Noël and the great Christmas Eve dinner. Follow me on this cultural journey and learn more about France’s Holiday season!

In this post, we’ll be covering 15 top French traditions of Christmas.



What are the French Traditions of Christmas?

Many European countries, including France, consider Christmas the most important time of the year. Over the centuries, the celebration of Christmas has evolved according to the traditions inherited from Christianity and paganism.

Thus, some of the French traditions of Christmas have emerged while others have been forgotten.


The various traditions of Christmas in France

France, being a country of passage between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, has adopted various Christmas traditions. The traditional Christmas in Provence is inherently different from that in Alsace. This is also reflected in Christmas gastronomy.


The globalisation of Christmas

However, with the development of globalisation since the end of the Second World War, there has been a standardisation of Christmas traditions in France. The most striking example is the appearance of Santa Claus, the American Père Noël, in French society. The big fat man dressed in red has dethroned the traditional gift distributors. Who remembers Père Chalande or Bonhomme Hiver?


The great influence of Germany

Another country that has had an important influence on the French Traditions of Christmas is Germany. Alsace, a Germanic province by history, was the springboard for developing Germanic Christmas traditions in France. This is the case for the traditions of the Christmas tree and Christmas markets.

French Traditions of Christmas - Strasbourg © French Moments
French Traditions of Christmas – Strasbourg © French Moments


The French Traditions of Christmas start with Advent


Advent calendars

Advent Calendars (calendriers de l’Avent) are, of course, a treat to eager French children in anticipation of Christmas. However, the original versions contained pious images, toys and chocolates filled with modern-day ones. At Christmas, the local postman or firefighter would knock on every door, selling calendars for the coming New Year. The French people call these post office calendars “Almanach du facteur”.

French Traditions of Christmas - Advent Calendar © French Moments
A paper Advent Calendar with chocolate inside! © French Moments
Advent Calendar © French Moments
A material-made Advent Calendar © French Moments
Advent Calendar © French Moments
A pointed Advent Calendar © French Moments

Alongside the calendar is the decorated wreath. With its four candles, this is another French tradition of Christmas.


Advent wreaths

The Advent wreath (couronne de l’Avent) consists of fir and pine tree branches. It is traditionally knotted with beautiful red bows and decorated with pine or fir cones. Four candles top the Advent wreath. They symbolise the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. People then lit a candle on each Sunday preceding Christmas.

French Traditions of Christmas - Advent Wreath © French Moments
An Advent Wreath for sale in Alsace © French Moments
Advent Wreath © French Moments
Advent Wreath © French Moments
Advent Wreath © French Moments
An Advent Wreath in St. Clotilde church, Paris © French Moments

Did you know? The cathedral of Strasbourg displays one of France’s largest Advent wreaths in the nave.

The giant Advent wreath inside Strasbourg cathedral © French Moments
The giant Advent wreath inside Strasbourg cathedral © French Moments

Read more about these French traditions of Christmas: Advent in France.


The Christmas Tree in France

Christmas in France - Strasbourg Christmas Market © French Moments
The great Christmas tree of Place Kléber, Strasbourg © French Moments

The Christmas tree is one of the most famous French traditions of Christmas. It has become an iconic figure of Christmas since its origins in the 16th century.

For decorating the Christmas tree (sapin de Noël), French people have a wide choice of:

  • ornaments,
  • glistening tinsel,
  • blinking fairy light,
  • without forgetting a star at the top.

This article on the French Christmas Tree will tell you when and where the tradition started and how it became a significant part of the holiday festivities.

A Christmas stroll in the streets of Annecy © French Moments
A Christmas tree in the streets of Annecy © French Moments

In France, the Christmas tree first appeared in Alsace in 1521. The French called it “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’.

Nancy © French Moments
The grand Christmas tree on place Stanislas, Nancy © French Moments

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.

Read more about the French traditions of the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations.


From Saint Nicolas to Père Noël

Christmas Preparations in Maisons-Laffitte 2015 05 © French Moments
Christmas preparation with Santa in Maisons-Laffitte © French Moments

Père Noël” (Father Christmas) is Santa Claus in France. Like in any place celebrating Christmas, the French Père Noël wears:

  • a red suit and hat
  • with white fur trimming
  • with a broad black belt around his waist.

He is:

  • tall and large,
  • with rosy cheeks and nose,
  • bushy eyebrows,
  • a white beard and moustache.

His big brown sack carries lots of toys. Santa will deliver them in every household at midnight, using his sleigh pulled by reindeer.


Saint Nicolas and Père Fouettard
Saint-Nicolas in Nancy © French Moments
Saint-Nicolas in Nancy © French Moments

Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas) inspired the character of Santa. The Patron Saint originally distributed presents to German and French children on 6 December. Père Fouettard (the Bogeyman) is Saint Nicolas’ counterpart. The French represent him covered in coal marks and dressed all in black.

He whips/spanks misbehaved children, just as Saint Nicolas rewards the good ones. With the transformation of Saint Nicolas into our modern-day Santa, Père Fouettard has somewhat disappeared altogether. In fact, he has given way to other characters, such as elves and reindeer.

Saint-Nicolas in Nancy © French Moments
Saint-Nicolas in Nancy © French Moments

Saint Nicolas is the central character of celebrations in Flanders, Lorraine and Alsace, as well as in Austria, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. When the Dutch migrated to the United States in the 19th century, they took the traditions of Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas). The character gradually evolved into Santa Claus.


The fireplace of Père Noël

On Christmas Eve, French children used to fill their shoes with carrots and treats for Père Noël’s donkey and leave them by the fireplace.

Annecy Christmas Market © French Moments
Santa’s chalet, Annecy Christmas Market © French Moments

More recently, the fireplace has been replaced by the Christmas tree. On Christmas night, Père Noël is said to travel the world. He would stop at every house. And climb down through the chimney to leave presents for every child who has behaved themselves through the past year. Sometimes, Père Noël’s donkey is substituted by seven magical reindeer who pull his sleigh, which is, in fact, an American tradition.

Christmas decoration in Rue des Orfèvres, Strasbourg © French Moments
Santa’s ride in Strasbourg © French Moments

On Christmas morning, children run to the Christmas tree to see what Santa has left under it for them. Often, presents are opened on the evening of 24 December, after the Christmas Réveillon dinner or after the midnight mass.

Read more about Santa Claus.


The Christmas Presents

Christmas presents under the tree © French Moments
Christmas presents under the tree © French Moments

The presents offered to each other at Christmastime represent Saint Nicolas’s caring attitude toward children. They are also symbolic of the gifts the three wise men offered Jesus on 6 January (at Epiphany) when they arrived at the stable.

Until the 1960s, children in France received an orange and a small gift for Christmas. They were placed in a stocking. Colourful wrapping paper and the tradition of buying more expensive gifts developed in line with increased American influence after the Second World War.


The Nativity scene

Nativity Scene of the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois © French Moments
Nativity Scene of the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois © French Moments

The Gospel of Luke recounts the story of Christ’s birth in a stable. His mother, Mary, wrapped him in cloths and laid him to sleep in the stable’s manger. Created around the 13th century, this tradition started spreading among Christians. Nativities (with life-size statues of the characters) and plays have been displayed in public places for centuries.


The Birth of Jesus
Kaysersberg © French Moments - Christmas 95
Nativity Scene in Alsace © French Moments

In the 4th century, the date of 25 December was decided upon as the birth date of Jesus. Since then, every year on 25 December, a figurine representing Jesus has been placed in the nativity. (some nativities have it already present, though it is positioned upside down until Christmas Day). The first nativity known to man dates back to the 6th century. Writings of that period describe the Christmas celebrations as centring around the nativity: “ad praesepe”, in the church of St. Mary in Rome.


The first Nativity scenes
Nativity Scene Notre-Dame Paris
Nativity Scene of Notre Dame in December 2016 © French Moments

In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity with people from his church in Greccio. Villagers played the characters. The role play even included live animals!

St. Francis put a consecrated host in the nativity to represent the baby Christ, although a live infant later replaced it. Little by little, the custom spread. Apart from Provençal nativities and live ones, there are also Baroque, Neapolitan, and Comtoise nativities (from Franche-Comté) as well as theatre nativity scenes (which were presented in the town hall square of Paris for 17 years).


A variety of Nativity scenes in France
Nativity Scene Saint-François Xavier Paris 01 © French Moments
Nativity Scene of Saint-François-Xavier church, Paris © French Moments

During the banning of street nativities throughout the French revolutions (closing of churches and suppression of the midnight mass), French households started reproducing the scene in their own house in miniature versions with clay figurines. This was when the Provençal Nativity began to develop. It has now become an essential tradition in the region. Contrary to the traditional nativity, the Provençal nativity mingles biblical characters (Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the ox, the three wise men) with typical Provençal villagers (the town crier, the poacher, the old man and woman: Grasset and Grasseto, the washerwoman, etc…).

Read more about the Nativity Scenes in France and Nativity scenes in Provence.


Christmas Eve in France

Shop front in Strasbourg © French Moments
A restaurant in Strasbourg © French Moments

The Réveillon is the big dinner French people share with their family on 24 December.

The menu varies according to the region. But the family always has to sit down together and enjoy a variety of the most delicious dishes.

Christmas is a time for celebration; thus, the French indulge in luxury food and delicatessen.

The Réveillon dinner can continue for up to six hours in some families, and it is a very sacred tradition to the French. Eating at the table for a long time is also a social custom in France. It is also intended to be a magical and unforgettable moment for children.

This is the perfect occasion for everyone to “blow out” their food budget and savour snails, frog legs, scallops (Coquilles Saint Jacques), and truffles.

French Oyster plateau © French Moments
French Oyster Plateau © French Moments

Parisians usually have seafood and oysters with bran bread and butter, caviar, foie gras (goose liver pate) with currant jam and the famous Christmas Yule log (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log decorated with plastic or sugared Christmas objects).

French Traditions of Christmas - New Year's Eve log © French Moments
The Bûche de Noël © French Moments


Christmas Eve in Provincial France

A roasted stuffed turkey/capon with potatoes is more common in Alsace and Burgundy.

In Provence, turkey is also found on the table during the Réveillon. However, some more religious families would argue that meagre meats, such as fish, should be eaten instead. Foie gras is also consumed in Provence, as is the dessert Yule log. However, it is a tradition to eat 13 desserts in Provence. They are used to symbolise Jesus and his 12 apostles (orange, pear, apples, prunes, melon, white nougat, black nougat, pompe à l’huile [a flat cake filled with olive oil], sorb, dates, dry figs, almonds, nuts or hazelnuts, black raisins).

Christmas Table in Alsace © OT Strasbourg - Aurélie Cottier
Christmas Table in Alsace © OT Strasbourg – Aurélie Cottier

French people take a great deal of care when creating decorations for the Christmas Eve dinner. This is particularly true for placing ornaments for the dining table, which must look elegant and inviting.

On Christmas Day, food is still an essential part of the day, particularly at lunchtime when it is expected to eat an exceptional dish, such as rabbit, coq au vin, vol-au-vent (bouchées à la reine), etc.


The Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass in Sélestat © Selestadium Novum
Midnight Mass in Sélestat © Selestadium Novum

On Christmas Eve, the midnight mass is part of the French traditions of Christmas. However, not everyone will be joining the church on that night. The religious service usually starts at midnight or a few hours before in all the cathedrals and parish churches all over France. Families get together in prayer and carol singing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a tradition believed to have occurred at night.

For the occasion, people decorate their churches with Christmas candles, Christmas trees and a Nativity scene.

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

Some families return home after the Mass to savour the French Christmas log and occasionally to open their Christmas presents.


French Carols

Each region of France has its own Christmas songs. This is particularly true in Provence. The oldest of French carols still sung today is “Entre le bœuf et l’âne gris”. It was written in the early 16th century.

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

The French call Carols either “des chants de Noël” or simply “des noëls” (masculine, without the capital N).

Christmas carols in France:

  • the “cantiques” (sung in churches) and
  • the “chants profanes” (with a distant or no reference to the Nativity).

Some of the most famous French carols heard in English-speaking countries is “Petit Papa Noël” and “Il est né le divin Enfant”.

While in France, English and German carols have been adapted into French :

  • Douce nuit” (Silent night), 
  • Vive le vent” (Jingle bells), or
  • L’enfant au tambour” (Little Drummer Boy)

Find out more about French Christmas carols and English/German lyrics here.


The French Christmas markets

Eguisheim Christmas Market, Alsace © French Moments
The French traditions of Christmas Markets (here Eguisheim in Alsace) © French Moments

All French Christmas markets (marchés de Noël) find their origins in Alsace.

Indeed, the region’s proximity to Germany gives Alsatian and French Christmas markets a distinctly Germanic touch. This is apparent in the structure of the market stalls. These are little wooden houses resembling mountain chalets, covered in lights and decorations.

The oldest Christmas market in Europe is Strasbourg, which dates back to 1570.

Strasbourg Christmas Market © French Moments
The Christkindelsmärik on place Broglie, Strasbourg © French Moments

Christmas markets mainly sell Christmas products or sometimes Christmas gifts. But more recently, some would say there has unfortunately been a large amount of commercialisation of the idea of Christmas markets.

Christmas at the Little Venice of Colmar © French Moments
Christmas market in Place des Six Montagnes Noires, Colmar © French Moments

They can now be found all over France, with their distinctive wooden chalets. For example in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Orléans, Besançon, Rouen, Dijon, Reims, Annecy, Grenoble, Lille, Arras, Béthune, Lyon, Nice, etc.


My favourite Christmas markets in France

What I like the most in a Christmas market is to experience the festive atmosphere. This is not just for getting ideas for presents. It is for the decoration and organisation that people put into it. Therefore I have my favourites! They are Christmas markets that I particularly like for their authenticity. Or for the careful attention to the chalets and product display. You’ll find most of them in Alsace and Lorraine. A few examples:


Strasbourg (Alsace)

The largest of all Christmas markets in France. As we said, it is one of the oldest in Europe. I love strolling from Place Broglié to the Petite France district via the Cathedral Square. I choose not to come on weekend days (to avoid the crowds of tourists!). Read more about Strasbourg at Christmas.

The Village of Sharing in Place Kléber, Strasbourg © French Moments
The Village of Sharing in Place Kléber, Strasbourg © French Moments


Colmar (Alsace)

The rich heritage of the town of Colmar is brilliantly enhanced with a festive (and vintage) Christmas light display. Read more about Colmar at Christmas.

Christmas in Alsace (Colmar) © French Moments
Christmas in Alsace (Colmar) © French Moments


Mulhouse (Alsace)

The Place de la Réunion hosts an enchanting Christmas market. The protestant church of St. Etienne provides a spectacular backdrop to the market. Read more about Mulhouse at Christmas.

Mulhouse © French Moments - Christmas Market 127
Mulhouse Christmas Market © French Moments


Kaysersberg (Alsace)

One of the most authentic Christmas markets in France! Kaysersberg is also one of our favourite spots in Alsace. Read more about Kaysersberg at Christmas.

Kaysersberg © French Moments - Christmas 26
Christmas in Kaysersberg © French Moments


Eguisheim (Alsace)

The wine-growing village may host a tiny Christmas market, but it has a lot of charm. Read more about Eguisheim at Christmas.

Eguisheim Christmas 10 © French Moments
Christmas in Eguisheim © French Moments


Sélestat (Alsace)

Sélestat is located in central Alsace, between Strasbourg and Colmar. The “cradle of the Christmas tree” boasts a rich architectural heritage. Read more about Sélestat at Christmas.

Sélestat Christmas market © French Moments
Sélestat Christmas market © French Moments


Obernai (Alsace)

The picturesque old town of Obernai specialises in a gastronomic Christmas market. The fine half-timbered houses that border the Place du Marché provide an enchanting scene for this festive event. Read more about Obernai at Christmas.

Obernai Christmas Market © French Moments
The Obernai Christmas Market © French Moments


Haguenau (Alsace)

In northern Alsace, Haguenau organises a beautiful Christmas market during the whole festive period.

Haguenau Christmas Market © French Moments
The great Christmas tree on Place d’Armes, Haguenau © French Moments


Wissembourg (Alsace)

Each year, the little town at the tip of Alsace chooses to respect the local traditions. Beware of Hans Trapp… fortunately, you’ll see the kind Christkindel not far away…

Wissembourg Christmas Market © French Moments
Wissembourg Christmas Market © French Moments


Metz (Lorraine)

The historic town hosts one of France’s largest Christmas markets after Strasbourg and Paris. Five different venues made up the Christmas market. My two favourites are the Place d’Armes (and its ferry wheel) and the medieval Place Saint-Louis. Read more about Metz at Christmas.

Metz Christmas Market © French Moments
An alley of the Metz Christmas Market on place Saint-Louis © French Moments


Nancy (Lorraine)

The festive market emphasizes the character of Saint Nicolas. The Unesco-listed Place Stanislas welcomes a superb Christmas tree while the Ferries wheel of Place de la Carrière offers a breathtaking town view. Read more about Nancy at Christmas.

Christmas in Nancy © French Moments
The Saint-Nicolas village on place Charles III, Nancy © French Moments


Montbéliard (Franche-Comté)

With its rich display of Christmas lights, Montbéliard is certainly one of the most beautiful Christmas markets I’ve ever visited! Read more about Montbéliard at Christmas.

Montbéliard © French Moments - Christmas 64
Christmas market of Montbéliard © French Moments


Annecy (Savoy)

You’ve probably heard about Annecy and its lake with turquoise water at the foot of snow-capped mountains. During the holidays, the historic town hosts a little Christmas market by the enchanting canals of the Venice of the Alps district. Simply amazing! Read more about Annecy at Christmas.

Annecy Christmas Market © French Moments
Annecy Christmas Market © French Moments

► Read more about the French traditions of Christmas in Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté.


A Christmas stroll in Paris

Let’s put it that way: Paris is not my favourite place to be for its Christmas markets. I find them not as authentic as in Alsace. And particularly too commercial-oriented if I may say so!

However, there are several places I enjoyed visiting when I was in the French capital in December.


The Eiffel Tower sparkling at night

Popular spots to admire the Eiffel Tower sparkling are at the Trocadéro or from the Champ de Mars. I’ve found another beautiful spot, by the Debilly footbridge.

Eiffel Tower 5 December 2015 08 © French Moments
The Eiffel Tower and Passerelle Debilly © French Moments


The Christmas lights at the Champs-Elysées

What a beautiful sight! Hundreds of thousands of LEDs illuminate the prestigious avenue from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. Many consider the event the first observance of the French Traditions of Christmas.

Paris Ferris Wheel Place de la Concorde
Christmas on the Champs-Élysées © French Moments


The Nativity Scenes inside the churches of Paris

While living in Paris, I made it a tradition to enter the many churches to admire their Nativity Scenes. Some of them are simple settings; others are monumental. My favourite crib was that of Notre Dame… alas we’ll have to wait at least a couple of years before the end of the restoration work.

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


Montmartre by night

I enjoy Montmartre by night when the streets are deserted. Past 6 or 7 pm on a weekday in December, the charming square of Place du Tertre is relatively empty and offers a beautiful sight of Sacré-Cœur all lit up.

Christmas Place du Tertre © French Moments
Place du Tertre at Christmas © French Moments


The Banks of the River Seine

Paris may look grim on a grey winter day. But wait for the night to fall, and the magic begins! I love strolling by the banks of the River Seine at night time for all the lights and monuments to see. My favourite itinerary starts from Pont de Sully and ends at the Place de la Concorde.

Pont de la Tournelle Paris Seine
Paris by night tour along the banks of the River Seine © French Moments

Read more about the French traditions of Christmas in Paris.


The Christmas lights in the North-East of France

Apart from Paris, the City of Lights, one has to get to the North-East of France to discover the lights of Christmas. The “Lumières de Noël” are inextricably related to the Christmas markets of Alsace and Lorraine. However, many villages that do not host a Christmas market would have strings of light decorating the streets. And often, a glittering Christmas tree stands on the main square.

Obernai Christmas Market © French Moments
Christmas lights in Obernai © French Moments

Main cities of France would decorate their streets with repetitive and plain Christmas decorations. In Alsace, tradition has it that the Advent period is the moment to express one’s decorative skills.

There are numerous examples of places to see Christmas lights in Alsace and Lorraine.

Here are some ideas for a visit:


Strasbourg, Alsace

Nicknamed the “Capital of Christmas”, Strasbourg is no stranger to an abundance of lights and decorations. Head to the narrow Rue des Orfèvres and Rue du Maroquin near the cathedral. The picturesque district of La Petite France is also a great place to visit.

Rue des Orfèvres, Strasbourg © French Moments
Rue des Orfèvres, Strasbourg © French Moments

Find out more about Christmas in Strasbourg


Wissembourg, Alsace

It’s one of my favourite places to be at Christmas time! The little town of Wissembourg, at the northern tip of Alsace, wants to show us what it means to celebrate Christmas according to the local traditions. What a beautiful atmosphere!

Christmas lights in Wissembourg, Alsace © French Moments
Christmas lights in Wissembourg, Alsace © French Moments


Saverne, Alsace

The Christmas market in Saverne is not particularly big. One of the reasons must be the proximity of Strasbourg. Therefore, each year, Saverne hosts a Christmas event called “Féerie d’Hiver” (Winter Wonderland). It features an incredible light display on the façades of the entire main street.

Christmas in Saverne © French Moments
The Winter Wonderland of Saverne at Christmas © French Moments


Sélestat, Alsace

Between Strasbourg and Colmar, Sélestat takes pride in being the first place where a decorated Christmas tree was mentioned. Therefore, the little town plays the Christmas tree card very well with many lights.

Christmas in Sélestat © French Moments
A beautiful Christmas atmosphere in Sélestat © French Moments

Find out more about Christmas in Sélestat


Ecomusée d’Alsace

Europe’s largest open-air museum reopens during Advent for the joy of young and old! The reconstituted Alsatian village with its half-timbered houses is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees everywhere!

Ecomusée d'Alsace © French Moments
At the Ecomusée d’Alsace © French Moments

Find out more about the Ecomusée d’Alsace


Nancy, Lorraine

I think Nancy would have to be the most elegant place in the northeast of France to spend Christmas. The royal square of Place Stanislas is adorned with a giant Christmas tree. The main street of the old town is also a must-see.

Nancy at Christmas time © French Moments
Nancy at Christmas time © French Moments

Find out more about Christmas in Nancy


Metz, Lorraine

North of Nancy, the Lorraine city of Metz has become a Christmas hotspot thanks to its brilliant Christmas market. But there are other Christmas lights, such as the Trail of Lanterns.

The Trail of Lanterns in Metz © French Moments
An enchanting view of the Trail of Lanterns in Metz © French Moments

Find out more about Christmas in Metz


Montbéliard, Franche-Comté

The town of Montbéliard lies in the Franche-Comté region but is very close to Alsace. Its Holiday time is locally known as “Lumières de Noël” (Christmas lights).

Montbéliard at Christmas time © French Moments
Montbéliard at Christmas time © French Moments

Find out more about Christmas in Montbéliard


The colours of Christmas

Christmas tree decorations © French Moments
Christmas tree decorations © French Moments

The traditional colours of Christmas (couleurs de Noël) are red, gold and green:

  • The flamboyant colour red evokes light and warmth (as well as Santa’s outfit).
  • Gold refers to the sun, which is not often visible in Northern France in December.
  • Green is a reminder of the evergreen trees, such as figs and holly, which are … always green. This is regardless of the season or time of year. It is the colour of hope, paired with the knowledge that spring will eventually return!


The Poinsettia flower

Poinsettia Flower copyright French Moments
Poinsettia Flower copyright French Moments

As in Northern America and England, the poinsettia flower (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is widely used in Christmas floral displays, especially in Alsace.

The Central American indigenous plant is appreciated for its red and green foliage that recalls the traditional colours of Christmas. The poinsettia initially grew in Mexico, where it was known as the “Flower of the Holy Night”. Joel Poinsett first brought it to America in 1829. Unsurprisingly, he gave his name to the flower!

The flower is also known in French as “étoile de Noël” for its star-shaped leaf pattern. The flower symbolises the Star of Bethlehem, while the red represents Jesus’s blood sacrifice at the crucifixion.


Mistletoe and holly

Mistletoe © French Moments
Mistletoe © French Moments

In France, mistletoe (gui) is not only used for New Year’s Eve. It is also hung above the door, on beams and luminaries during Christmas. It was to bring good fortune throughout the coming year.

Pine cones (painted gold), walnuts and holly (houx) are also widely accepted symbols of Christmas.

Holly Branches © French Moments
Holly Branches © French Moments

The legend goes that when Jesus and his family fled Egypt, the soldiers of Herod were about to catch them. The holly (le houx) extended its branches to hide Jesus and his parents. Mary thus blessed the holly. In doing so she announced that it would remain eternally green, a symbol of hope and immortality.


Exchanging vows

Christmas Notre-Dame Paris
Christmas at Notre Dame © French Moments

Exchanging vows for Christmas and the New Year (vœux) has been practised between neighbours for centuries in France. However, with the invention of postal mail, the practice became more widespread. Nevertheless, it is still not a tradition as important as it is in other countries such as England.

Read more about New Year’s Eve in France.


Christmas in Alsace – a Photographic Journey

I’ve released my new eBook: Christmas in Alsace – a Photographic Journey.

It contains 340+ photos, 256 pages and covers 16 destinations.

Illuminations, decorations, fir trees and delicious treats: this is a compilation of things I loved and experienced while visiting Alsace in December. 

These are photos shot during freezing nights in December… but also in the warm atmosphere of an authentic Christmas market.

It is a book dedicated to discovering the Christmas traditions that make Alsace such a unique holiday destination.

I hope it will transport you somewhere special – to a magical land far from all the bad news in the media.

Order your copy now!


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The Top French Christmas Traditions © French Moments

Want to read about the French traditions of Christmas in French? Check out our article on the blog Mon Grand-Est!

Christmas in Paris ebook
Journey to the Land of Christmas
About the 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. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, 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. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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