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Letters to Paris: 'Happy Christmas'

The Croft Magazine // In this festive edition of Letters to Paris, Xander Brett compares how Christmas is celebrated in the UK and France.

By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French

The Croft Magazine // In this festive edition of 'Letters to Paris', Xander Brett compares how Christmas is celebrated in the UK and France.

20th December, 2020

With few Christmas markets and only small gatherings permitted, Christmas in France will, as here in the UK, be different this year. Thankfully, when it comes to Christmas shopping, the French motto has always been ‘quality over quantity’. Online orders have been a struggle though. The French prefer to shop at Christmas markets and there are no Boxing Day sales. Christkindelsmärik in Strasbourg is the oldest Christmas market, though there are stalls in most French towns. A crib is a common sight in households across the world, but the French take their ‘crèche’ to new levels. Theirs include not just the usual characters, but also chestnut roasters and bakers. They remain on display until 2nd February, along with Advent wreathes, made from fir and pine branches and topped by four candles. Each candle is lit on each of the Sundays before Christmas.

Tribunal Administratif de Paris | Epigram / Xander Brett

The French are flexible when it comes to opening presents. In the north of the country, particularly in Alsace-Lorraine, many are opened on 6th December (the Feast of Saint Nicholas). Some presents are left until a month later on 6th January (Epiphany). On this day, a pastry – known as the galette des rois – is consumed, with a charm hidden inside. Like the sixpence in a Christmas pudding, whoever finds this is crowned king or queen and may choose a partner.

Christmas itself is celebrated on 24th December, as in most of Europe. The president addresses the nation and a dinner (known as ‘Le Réveillon’) of fish and foie gras is consumed (the tablecloth must be tied so the Devil can’t get underneath). In Provence, there are thirteen puddings to eat… one for each of the apostles at the Last Supper. That night, while the English leave sherry and mince pies by the fireplace, the French leave their shoes, hoping Père Noël will fill them overnight with sweets, fruit and nuts. Carrots are also left for his donkey, Gui. Père Noël is accompanied by Père Fouettard (Father Spanker), who smacks badly behaved children. Churches are packed for Midnight Mass, and they fill once again the next morning. Christmas Day, on 25th December, is reserved for champagne, a late lunch and lots of Christmas telly.

Happy Christmas!

Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett

Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris'.