In the midst of a new country at the most family oriented time of the year, we contemplate what traditions we might adopt from the French and what family traditions made along the way that we might keep.
Do you have a family tradition that is unique to your family?
French Christmas Traditions
#1 Yule Log – traditional cake made of chocolate and nuts, which symbolizes Christmas as our tree might back home.
#2 Le Réveillon – December 24th the people go to midnight mass, and after celebrate Jesus’ birthday with a huge meal, called Le Réveillon.
#3 Candle In Window – You burn a candle in the window incase the Virgin Mary passes with Jesus as he delivers gifts to the children.
#4 Shoes in front of the Fireplace – The kids put their shoes by the fireplace hoping Père Noël (Papa Noel) fills them with candy and small gifts. Père Fouettard who gives out spankings to the naughty children, our equivalent to receiving coal, accompanies him.
#5 December 6th Shoes in the Window – In some regions they have the Dec. 6th celebration. Santa visit and fills the shoes and he returns on December 24th to put presents under the tree. In other areas they believe baby Jesus brings the gifts on December 24th. It really depends on the region and how religious they are.
#6 Santa Answers – In 1962 a unique law was passed, that if a child writes to Santa he gets a post card response. Older children take on the task of writing back, keeping the magic alive for the next generation.
#7 Christmas Trees – The Sapin de Noel is the main decorations in store windows, along streets and homes. Introduced in the 14th century, the Christmas tree was decorated with apples, paper flowers and ribbons.
#8 Wooden Nativity Scenes – The French love their little wooden figures of the nativity scene, and spend time hand painting their little collections with care.
#9 Christmas Is for Family – Adults celebrate New Years with gifts for each other and parties for friends and keep Christmas tradition and celebration tight in the family.
#10 Traditional Food – Foie Gras, crepes, roast chicken, walnut stuffed turkey, roast goose, smoked salmon and oysters are among the traditional food eaten at this time of year.
Our Family Traditions
Our family celebrates Jesus’ birthday December 24th evening, by having a big celebratory dinner with all traditional fixings, as done in Hungary, our culture based on our Roman Catholic faith. We try to make cabbage rolls during our holidays, a tradition that we adopted. Changing custom slightly we open one present around midnight, not all and the rest in the morning keeping time with our Canadian friends.
December 6th is when Santa delivers chocolates to children’s shoes left in the window. Baby Jesus brings presents on his birthday, while the children sleep but as of late we adopted Santa Clause bringing the gifts, again to keep with the children’s class majority. Our family does one big present per child and the adults don’t exchange gifts at Christmas. We only buy for the children as we think Santa is for them. The kids end up with special gifts from their grandparents and the kids make us gifts.
Each year we have sent photo cards to say Merry Christmas to our friends and family in Canada, US and Europe. This year we won’t, with so much up in the air, adjusting to our new busy French life, we send our holiday wishes over Skype to our loved ones.
Christmas 2011 in France
Our family gathering is intimate, with hand-made decorations hung on a tree. Each child has asked for a pet this year, and Santa will bring Daniel his parrot’s cage and Angelina’s kitten a bed. They will pick their pets when the time is right, once more settled in our new home.
The turkey came out from the gas oven unevenly cooked. Not sure how to use the oven properly, despite the mishap, it was enjoyable even though the kids were not feeling up to eating, still under the weather from the flu.
Home made cranberry sauce, a great recipe we found online and took liberty to wing with what we had in the house. It tasted like apple cranberry compote with orange zest, simply delicious. Our homemade stuffing made from a fresh loaf of bread with thick crust, chopped up into squares, fried up in olive oil, and added to fried onions, garlic, walnuts and a mix of herbs, we stirred in with chicken stock, and inserted in the bird. It was the best stuffing ever! With only Alfonz to enjoy it, we have loads of left over’s for soup and lunch over the next few days.
After dinner the kids got to open one small present before bed. Each got pajamas, underwear and a chocolate to eat while we watched Miracle on 34th Street. From the community loud speaker they play Christmas music, which sounds like an old 45. Very cool!
Daniel put out the milk and cookies for Santa next to his list, we lit the candle for Mother Mary which Angelina made in school and we sent the kids to bed.
Angelina was exhausted from fever. I can only hope her night will be better than last. A few moments alone before bed, we sit enjoy a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, and watch an episode of Borgias. Off to bed we went!
The kids woke us up at the crack of dawn, and ripped open their gifts in less than 5 minutes.
December 25th we make homemade turkey soup from the leftovers and walk in the countryside. We start new family traditions in France combining from all three cultures, to make a very special holiday season.
Merry Christmas to our family and friends back home, we miss you very much!