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15 French Christmas Traditions to Embrace Wherever You Are

15 French Christmas Traditions to Embrace Wherever You Are

french christmas traditions

Here is your guide to the best French Christmas traditions! Being French, I’ve listed in this article all of the best Christmas traditions in France you can adopt anywhere you are. From Christmas greetings to traditional French Christmas foods and French Christmas table decorations, here are fifteen Christmas traditions in France to add to your festive celebrations. Even if you cannot make it to Paris this Christmas, follow me on this cultural journey to find out more about the Holiday season in France, plus the French Christmas traditions you can recreate right at home.

1. French Christmas Greetings

Joyeux Noël et joyeuses fêtes de fin d’année!
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

To wish someone Merry Christmas in French, we say “Joyeux Noël.” However, the French don’t wish “Joyeux Noël” to each other weeks in advance; we only say it a few days before Christmas. Also, Christmas cards are not very popular in France. Instead, cards are sent traditionally to celebrate the New Year.

To wish someone Happy New Year in French we say “Bonne Année”. It’s important never to wish anyone a “Bonne Année” before midnight on New Year’s Eve, as this brings bad luck.

2. Advent Calendars · Les Calendriers de l’Avent

Advent calendars are a big deal in France. Each year, French chocolatiers and luxury French brands release even more beautiful advent calendars, elevating them to a must-have for cozy holiday decor. The offerings have extended beyond chocolates, and French brands make excellent advent calendars filled with goodies from tea, beauty, and other high-end treats. It’s a great way to count the days until Christmas by opening one window per day through Christmas Eve.

3. Christmas Tree · Le Sapin De Noël

According to the Catholic tradition, a Christmas tree should not be put up before Christmas Eve (on December 24th). And it should be taken down twelve days after Christmas (on the Epiphany). However, in reality, there is no fixed date. Indeed, most French households have their French Christmas tree set up by about the 15th of December (and even the 1st), and street decorations are usually up from the first Sunday of Advent. You can read my previous article on French Christmas tree ornaments to decorate your Christmas tree the French way.

4. The Nativity Scene · La Crèche

One thing every French home has right under the Christmas tree is the crèche or Nativity scene. La crèche is part of the French Christmas decorations and is an important part of the French Catholic traditions. La crèche features many little figurines, also called santons in Provence, representing townsfolks as they gather around the stable for the birth of baby Jesus.

5. Advent Wreaths · Les Couronnes De l’Avent

Advent wreaths (Couronnes de l’Avent) are also common in France; they are made up of fir and pine tree branches for the first Sunday of Advent. They are traditionally knotted with beautiful red bows and decorated with pine or fir cones. Advent wreaths usually decorate a table or adorn the front door or windows of a house.

6. Christmas Markets · Les Marchés de Noël

Christmas markets are an important part of the French Christmas tradition. With small wooden châlet stands selling all kinds of goods and delicacies, Christmas markets are a fun place to go Christmas shopping. In a traditional French Christmas market, you can find local arts and crafts, special Christmas food such as pain d’épices (gingerbread), regional delicacies, handmade clothing, or Christmas ornaments. Basically, it is everything you need to celebrate Christmas the French way! Being French, my favorite Christmas market is the one at the Tuileries Garden, Paris: it really brings a Christmas vibe to the city. I love the one at Strasbourg as well, which is particularly renowned.

7. Christmas Eve or Christmas Day · Le Réveillon ou Le Jour de Noël

When do the French celebrate Christmas? If one day you’re invited over for a Christmas meal in France, the first thing to check is what day it is! Indeed, the Christmas meal could very much be on December 24th in the evening or December 25th. Even if the Christmas meal in France usually takes place on Christmas Eve (called “le réveillon de Noël”), today, many French families have their traditional Christmas meal on December 25th.

Historically, religious French people had their Christmas dinner on the 24th to stay up to go to the late Christmas mass. And today, a lot of French families still do —mass or no mass— hold the traditional Christmas meal on the 24th in the evening. Other French families prefer to celebrate Christmas on the 25th (which is a bank holiday) with a late lunch.

Also, some families have two Christmas gatherings. The first meal on Christmas eve is a simpler meal only in small families. Then, the second meal is a fancier Christmas meal on the 25th with the extended family.

8. Midnight Mass · La Messe de Minuit

La Messe de Minuit is a church service held on Christmas Eve. It is actually an important Christmas tradition in France for many Christians. In France, churches will have a reception afterward, and it’s a convivial moment between the people of the church community before going back home.

9. Christmas Presents · Les Cadeaux de Noël

In France, we do not hang stockings on the fireplace around Christmas time. Indeed, we (or Santa) usually place Christmas gifts under the Christmas tree or right next to it. Kids typically open their presents on the morning of Christmas Day, and adults after Christmas lunch (if you celebrate Christmas on the 25th). Also, it’s very common in France to give chocolate boxes and Champagne bottles as presents for Christmas. If you’re on the hunt for French Christmas gift ideas for the Francophile in your life, check out the ultimate French gift guide to find marvelous French gifts for her, fabulous French gifts for him, and exquisite French beauty gifts.

10. Shoes by the Fire · Les Souliers au Coin du Feu

According to tradition, on Christmas Eve, French children leave their shoes by the fireplace filled with treats for Santa (le Père Noël) before they go to bed. Santa will take the offerings and will leave presents in their place.

“Petit Papa Noël
Quand tu descendras du ciel
Avec des jouets par milliers
N’oublie pas mon petit soulier”

French Christmas song “Petit Papa Noël”

11. French Christmas Songs · Les Chants de Noël

Christmas carols and other holiday hymns are the best part of the holiday season. Although many beloved Christmas carols originated in England or Germany, there are quite a few French Christmas songs that are worth a listen. I’ll recommend five of the most popular French Christmas songs, which are: “Mon Beau Sapin” (“O Christmas Tree”), “Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant”, “Vive le Vent” (“Jingle Bells”), “Douce Nuit, Sainte Nuit” (“Silent Night”), and “Petit Papa Noël”.

12. Table Setting à la Française

It’s no surprise that in France, the French Christmas dinner is key to the holiday festivities. The table is set with lots of care, as setting a pretty table in France is part of our culture and tradition. It’s very important for the French to have their Christmas dining table looking extremely elegant and inviting. To properly set your Christmas table the French way, prefer luxury dinnerware, silverware, crystal glasses, and fine table decorations. The presentation of the meals also needs to be refined.

13. Christmas Dinner · Le dîner de Noël

If you’ve heard about French people eating long and slowly, this Christmas dinner is the greatest example of this French custom. Indeed, this meal can go for up to six hours! And it does share a few characteristics listed below.

First, the starters often consist of foie gras, smoked salmon, oysters, or escargots, and even caviar at the wealthiest tables. Starters are usually followed by a seafood gratin. Then, large poultry (a capon or a turkey) is usually served with chestnuts and a cardoon gratin. The traditional cheese plate follows the main and is often served with a green salad. 

To finish the feast you will get the traditional Bûche de Noël, which comes in two forms: pâtissière (with a genoise cake and buttercream) or glacée (ice cream-based cake). Being French, I prefer the second one, as it’s easier to eat a slice of ice cream than a rich cake when you’ve already been eating for two hours. Many French families finish the Christmas meal with a fruit salad or with fresh fruits, plus a digestive and/or coffee.

14. Les Papillotes

One of my favorite treats that I love to eat at Christmas is the Papillotes! These are chocolates (or pates de fruits) wrapped in golden sparking paper with fringed ends. Inside, there is usually a little note written on it. The papillotes were invented at the end of the 18th century by a confectioner named Papillot, who made chocolates and sweets in his shop in Lyon. He was inspired by his young apprentice sending stolen sweets wrapped in love letters to his sweetheart.

Nowadays, papillotes are a delicious French Christmas tradition that is sold in shops at the end of each year. You can also use them to decorate your Christmas table, or you can give them to your loved ones for Christmas.

15. The Mulled Wine · Le Vin Chaud

Mulled wine is very popular in France, and in the winter, you’ll find it everywhere: in bars, in French Christmas markets, and in the streets. Also, this tipple is becoming a trendy seasonal beverage, perfect for fireside gatherings at home and apres-ski. Le vin chaud is very simple to prepare, and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd. That is why I wanted to share my very traditional French mulled wine recipe with you.

french recipe vin chaud mulled wine

Traditional French Vin Chaud Recipe

Here is my very authentic and traditional French mulled wine (vin chaud) recipe.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine French
Servings 12


  • 1.5 L red wine Bordeaux, Bourgogne or Pinot Noir
  • 250 g brown sugar
  • 1 lemon zest
  • 1 orange zest
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 ginger slice
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 1 orange


  • Mix all the ingredients directly in a saucepan: wine, sugar, lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg.
  • Heat until everything is simmering without boiling. Continue cooking at a simmer for 8 to 15 minutes, stirring gently from time to time. From 8 minutes start to taste and continue the infusion if you feel it doesn't taste enough. With all those spices, you should not exceed 15 minutes.
  • Finally, when your mulled wine is spicy enough, you can filter your preparation and remove all the spices.
  • Serve your mulled wine very hot in glasses and place an orange slice per glass.
Keyword vin chaud

Have you ever celebrated Christmas in France? Would you recommend any other French Christmas traditions to try? Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

View Comments (3)
  • I recently signed up for your newsletter and am really enjoying it. I am going to try the vin chaud recipe. Thank you!

  • 5 stars
    Really enjoyed your published article – love France but unable to get out due to Covid restrictions Thank you for keeping my love of French traditions alive !

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