Christmas Markets (Les marchés de Noël)
Christmas brings with it some of the most beautiful displays of artisanal goods and craft in markets across Europe, and this tradition is very much alive in France. The little stalls are constructed to mirror a wintery scene of mountain chalets, all adorned with ornaments and fairy lights. The tradition is more prominent in Northern France, such as Alsace, close to the German border- a country incredibly famous for their Christmas markets. However in fact, the oldest Christmas market in Europe is in Strasbourg, which dates back to 1570.
Mulled Wine (Le Vin Chaud)
In a country where wine is treated extremely seriously, a warmer winter alternative to have while sitting out on cold days is very welcome. The type of wine used is generally a “piquette”- essentially a very ordinary wine. It would be truly sacrilege to tamper with a good wine. Red wine is heated with some sugar and a number of Christmas spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. This is done slowly over a low heat so as not to boil the wine. Enjoy with a slice of orange to warm yourself up on a cold day!
Leaving slippers out
Many children leave their slippers by the fireplace or under the tree (le sapin de Noël) in the hope that Father Christmas with fill them with sweets, presents, nuts and fruit. They check for the contents of the slippers (pantoufles) on Christmas morning, often rising before the sun out of anticipation!
Provençal Nativity (la Crèche de Noël)
The provençal version which includes tiny clay figurines of ordinary village people alongside the usual biblical characters. This tradition came to being during the French Revolutions, when religion was suppressed , midnight mass cancelled and the usual live crib displays halted. This led people to recreate the scene in miniature version in their own homes, where they made the addition of the provencal elements.
Feast of 24th December (Le Réveillon)
Unlike many countries who focus on the 25th December, in France the night before is generally when one sits down to share a huge feast with friends and family. The menu changes slightly depending on region but the meal will generally be extravagant and last a few hours. In Provence they traditionally enjoy 13 desserts, which represent Christ and his 12 apostles (orange, pear, apples, prunes, melon, white nougat, black nougat, pompe à l’huile [a flat cake filled with olive oil], sorb, dates, dry figs, almonds, nuts or hazel nuts, black raisins). Elsewhere a Christmas log (bouche de Noël) is often enjoyed after the meal.
Cake of Kings (Galette des rois)
A very traditional French cake, usually eaten on the 12th day of Christmas (5th January), when families share this dessert. Each cake contains a token prize known as the fève. The person who finds the fève in their serving is declared the King or Queen for the evening. The king or queen then wears the crown and can choose their partner.
So if you were on the hunt for a new tradition to adopt this Christmas, why not borrow one from the French!
– Lucy Kelly