How would you celebrate Christmas in France?

Bonjour !

Oh wow, it’s already Christmas! Are you ready?

I’m not. Still have to find a few presents, order the dinde farcie at the butcher’s and the bûche de Noël at the boulangerie.

By the way, Christmas is SO different from one country to the other, do you know how WE celebrate Christmas in France?

Maybe not more than what you see in movies and decoration magazines. A perfect romantic Christmas in a 10M€ chalet in the mountain with foie gras and macarons.

Well… Let me show you how French people celebrate Christmas. How we’ll do it at home.

When do French people celebrate Christmas?

First things first, the dates. It may seem weird to precise, but it’s different from the UK for example.

In France, we celebrate Christmas on 24th (evening) and 25th (lunchtime). And it is a family time. This means that, compared to the UK, you will not find restaurants open on these days. We don’t eat out, we celebrate at home.

On the 24th, we have dinner together. Some people go to la messe de Noël either before dinner or at midnight (la messe de minuit).

On the 25th, we have lunch until we can’t eat anymore… around 4PM.

We open presents on the 24th or the 25th (or both), depending on the family traditions.

On 26th, normal life starts again, with the 1-hour queue at the « Service après-vente » at the Fnac and Darty. Youpi. The best part being « manger les restes » (leftovers).

What do French people eat for Christmas?

Menus are very similar on 24th and 25th.

En entrée, we can have du foie gras, du saumon ou des escargots (snails).

Le plat principal is usually de la dinde (turkey) aux marrons (chestnuts). The dinde is « farcie »: stuffed.

And after la salade et le fromage, we have desert. And the king of Christmas deserts is… la bûche de Noël (Christmas log)! The bûche can be pâtissière or glacée. La bûche pâtissière is like a cake with génoise (sponge) and crème au beurre (buttercream). La bûche glacée is (basically) made of biscuit and ice cream. Both are excellent. I would buy both and have one on 24th and the other on 25th.

WARNING: The best is to buy it at la boulangerie. Please please please, order it in advance.

Bonjour, je voudrais commander une bûche pâtissière/glacée au chocolat pour 6 pour le 24 s’il vous plaît.

(You’ll thank me later for this tip)

Note: If you are invited to a French Christmas dinner but do not wish to eat foie gras, here is how to politely decline.

Before and during Christmas, we eat des papillotes. These are chocolate or pâtes de fruits, we only have at Christmas time. They usually contain a little joke or a quote. And sometimes un pétard (a banger), like the ones you find in British crackers. I LOVE papillotes and my boyfriend and I are eating plenty on winter evenings.

Tip: if you have to host a dinner, feel free to get some frozen help from the king of frozen French food: Picard. We’ve all seen the « Pain surprise » and the « Saumon farci » at Christmas dinners and many other family celebrations.

How to wish « Merry Christmas » in French

Nice and easy:

Joyeux Noël.
Bonnes fêtes de Noël.

As we usually take a break between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we wish « Merry Christmas » + « Happy New Year » in one sentence:

Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année.

Traditionally, in the last email you send to your colleagues before Christmas, you say Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. Here is how to say it elegantly. Copy-paste this in an email:

Je vous souhaite de joyeuses fêtes de Noël en famille ainsi qu’une excellente année 2013.

Joyeux Noël à toi et à toute ta famille,

Gros Bisous,


Join the conversation!

  • Chère Géraldine,

    Pour commencer: j’apprécie beaucoup ton website. Je suis Hollandaise et habite depuis 1976 dans le sud de la France. Je voudrais attirer tnt attention au fait que le repas du soir (le 24) est un repas MAIGRE, surtout dans le sud, ou les traditions sont encore très présentes. Ce qui ne veut pas dire: se priver de bonnes choses. Au menu figurent par exemple les omelettes aux truffes, l’anchoyade (et oh combien de délicatesses peut on mettre là dedans), le gratin d’épinards,- de poireaux et de morue, – de courges, la brandade. Avec les treize desserts en plus on sort vraiement très content de table!

    • Bonjour Elisabeth, Merci pour ta précision. Tout ce que tu écris me mets l’eau à la bouche. 🙂 Dans ma famille, nous faisons un repas assez semblable le 24 et le 25. Donc c’est très intéressant que tu parles des traditions du Sud, surtout si elles sont si respectées !

    • Merci Alie pour ta précision. C’est super que tu aies trouvé des restaurants ouverts le 25 décembre à midi ! C’est assez rare. 😀

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