Have you ever wondered what it is like to spend Christmas in France? We think most people would say it is less commercial and perhaps a bit humble compared to, say, that of the UK or America. The festive period is relatively short and the celebrations seem so much more precise, to the point and relaxed. The village and town decorations are beautiful. A lot of work and effort goes into these. Our own town of Sourdeval is testament to this. You will find less houses (in particular in the countryside) decorated on the outside with Christmas lights but where this is lacking, the villages certainly make up for this.
Speaking of which, villages will often arrange a visit from Father Christmas in the local Salle des fêtes where all the children will be able to receive a present. They are in often in the region 40/50 euro gifts paid for by the commune’s funds. A lovely community spirited gesture.
And what of the food? Given that food plays a huge part of French life it is no surprise that the offerings at this time are a gourmands delight! From foie gras, pate, turkey’s and chapon – a fat French hen, Scottish salmon, canapés, champagne, elegant boxes of chocolates with images of the Eiffel Tower printed on sparkly backgrounds, oysters and so much more. Christmas Eve is the main meal – Le Réveillon De Noël and also New Year’s Eve. And don’t forget the traditional bûche de Noël. A much lighter version of a yule log – it’s a light sponge covered with either chocolate, coffee or vanilla flavoured butter. The better versions of this (you can buy mini or large ones) are in your local Boulangerie.
Whilst the stocking of Christmas produce has begun to get a bit earlier – maybe at the end of October/November – it certainly does not start in August and generally speaking the Christmas countdown starts from the end of November and into December. Many villages will only put up their lights in December. A local village here only put theirs up in the second week. Christmas is really reserved for December.
You may also be surprised that if Christmas falls on a weekend (much like the other bank holidays) the next day is not a public holiday and there is no Boxing day (26 December).
There will be numerous little Christmas markets in the various villages/towns where you can visit Father Christmas. He can arrive on a horse-drawn carriage, tractor and/or quad bike.
There are live nativity plays, amazing free light displays (see Beauchêne Christmas Lights ) and pop up ice-rinks in town, eg, Avranches or by the seaside. The one at St Malo in Brittany (about 1 hour 20 from here) costs as little as 5 euros for little ones and 7 euros for older ones with an unlimited time limit.
You will find early evening Christmas carnivals in towns such as Vire and Granville which includes magical giant bears, firework displays with Father Christmas falling from the sky and children’s carousel in most towns. Naturally, there are church services as well. All of these events are FREE and you don’t have to stress trying to find and pay for parking – even Father Christmas can be seen for free. The big stores like Jardiland have a wonderful grotto and yes you can pay to have your photo taken but you are also free to whip our your smartphone.
The one thing that is not common place here, are Christmas cards but that does not stop your neighbour or friend being pleased to receive one.
If you are a parent you will find the lead up to Christmas a lot less pressurised. In the UK there is normally a full schedule of events – dates for class Christmas parties and what to bring in, teacher gifts and don’t forget the teacher assistant. Then the PTA normally require some Christmas goodies for the disco or the fayre. Or both!
There are Christmas performances at different times and the outfits the children need.
In France it is not as hectic. You will be invited to a carol service and/or a sing song on the last day of term and maybe some chocolates brought into the class. So the build up, for a parent, is a far more relaxed affair.
It is a time to come together, exchange gifts and over eat a bit.
We hope you enjoyed this little insight as to what you can expect if you are spending a Christmas in France.