Christmas in France

Today, our family was discussing some of the observations we’ve made about Christmas in France and I thought you might be curious. Plus, I wanted a good excuse to to share some photos of our ornaments. : )

– December 1st was the first day I saw real Christmas Trees for sale. Corner tree lots don’t really exist. Instead, you can find them inside the big grocery stores, under a big tent in the grocery store parking lot, or at a Nursery.

-Potted trees are widely available everywhere trees are sold. They seem to be very common here. Cut trees are also available and fun fact: they aren’t kept in water. There are metal tree stands that have just enough room for a trunk, or some tree are placed in half logs (very charming! — I need to take a photo). For our tree, we filled a metal milk bucket with wet sand and put the cut trunk in that. It’s holding up nicely.

– There is no Black Friday. In fact, shopping only started to ramp up this week, as evidenced by shops that starting to extend their hours a bit.

– Community Christmas lights, on streetlamps and main streets, are everywhere. Everywhere! Even the teeniest, tiniest little villages have them.

– Students learn Christmas songs at school, and make Christmas projects to bring home as gifts, but they do not give Christmas gifts to teachers. (Take that! to do list.)

– Every thing is smaller. There are wreaths, but they are petite. There are a few outdoor santas and reindeer, but they’re about half the size of anything you’d find in the U.S.

– The only tree lights we’ve seen are LED (and not inexpensive).

– Fancy boxes of chocolates are everywhere! They seem to be the go-to gift.

How about you? Have you ever spent Christmas in another country? What did you observe?

67 thoughts on “Christmas in France”

  1. A few years ago we spent Christmas in Venice as a family. It was absolutely magical. We found that on Christmas day everything was quiet and closed, so we found a little pizzeria, brought some back to our hotel, ate them with wine and then went to church for a Latin service. Venice was pretty much devoid of tourists, much to our delight, and it felt like the city was ours to explore.

  2. When I went to school, I took part in a student exchange program between Germany (where I come from) and India. For three weeks I stayed with a wonderful family who did everything to distract me from homesickness over the holidays. Even though they are members of the Hinduistic Faith they decided to celebrate Christmas for me. They put up a small Christmas tree with fake snow and blinking lights and on Christmas Eve we ate the homemade Christmas cookies I had brought as a gift to India. Also I sang two or three German Christmas carols for them (and they were very polite for tolerating that).
    In Calcutta itself there was nothing to be seen of Christmas. But the teacher who accompanied us told us that he went to a Christian church on Christmas Eve, where a service was being held and many people of the Christian community gathered.
    Until today, this Christmas holds a very special place in my heart and I remember it every year, when I celebrate with my family in Germany (on Christmas Eve and not on Christmas Morning).
    Excuse me, this got long.
    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas celebration with your family in France.

  3. I spent a Christmas in rural France once – I should put up pics, it was TOTALLY STUNNINGLY frosty and beautiful. We were only there for the week so we hung our favourite ornaments off a branch. I loved it.

    I was in France for the winter (but not Christmas) six years ago in Grenoble. There are some pics of that here: – they don’t take the christmas lights down in summer (just stop turning them on) to save money. I always found that so funny.

  4. We spent Christmas in Barcelona one year and it was so fun to experience. Everyone has a “cagatio” log which is semi-covered with a cloth, then the kids literally beat this thing till it “poos” out their gifts or you just lift the fabric up to reveal them. The logs look cuter than you’d think, although the idea that your gift was defecated took a bit to get used to. I added a link so you could take a look at it.

  5. Here in Paris it is a bit different….well where I am in Le Marais.

    It is not really decorated here in Paris not sure why that is…maybe it’s the cost. Sure big things are decorated i.e. Hotel de Ville etc…but not the main streets (maybe in the super touristy areas or where a lot of Americans reside). I have only seen 1 street with lights/decorations down it (Francs Bourgeois which is a big shopping street). The lack of decorations is depressing me a bit.

    It was so bad that I couldn’t even find a Baby’s 1st Christmas Ornament! I had to order from the US and ship express mail! No online stores sold them either. And the Christmas Stockings were lacking in style as well (my in laws picked up one but it was the generic bright red fake velvet kind…it will only be used the first year to say the least).

    Christmas Trees are crazy expensive here in the city! 40 euros for a 4 foot tall tree (which btw is only 25 euros in the burbs…which is what we ended up doing…getting the In Laws to bring it by). If you want a traditional US sized tree it is 60 euros (6 f00t)…which converted to US Dollars just add 30% to the price.

    We have a small 4 foot tree but it is really cute! The label said that it did not come from a forest…it was grown just for harvesting (tree farm). Maybe this is why it is more expensive? I mentioned to my French Husband maybe the supply is more in the US (because of the amount of land we have = more trees) therefore the demand is lower = lower prices. He said no the French just make a better profit haha! Everything is just more expensive here to tell you the truth!

    As for the Christmas Lights…try your local drougerie (aka convenience store)…that’s where I found ours under 5 euros for 35 lights (had to buy 3 sets). but def better price that the LED’s for 11 euros (for one set).

    What I am looking forward to are 2 big French Style Family Lunches…mmmm so good! I’ll write a comment with details on what my husband’s aunt (Christmas Day) makes and my mother in law (Christmas Eve). Can’t wait!


  6. Funny you should ask.
    Here in Saudi, you don’t expect anything at all but in the little Souks you can find ornaments and maybe fake trees.
    the “Compounds” are full of vendors with decorations and some of the really big malls in Jeddah have some type of decorations. Mostly the American and /British stores that bring their whole inventory with them.
    Last year IKea had some things but nothing at all this year. Someone had a fight with the Saudi’s and no decor this year, sad :-(

    1. I forgot to mentioned, last year we were in Egypt during Christmas eve and we saw a Christmas tree right at the entrance of the Pyramids :-)
      They also had at the Marriot hotel a Santa giving out presents that night.
      I liked the effort the put into making others feel the celebration.

  7. I spent a Christmas in South Africa and another in Vanuatu. In Cape Town the main light display downtown included an African drummer, which I thought was beautiful. The township kids would get their one present from Santa at church and it was crazy, crazy hot.

    Vanuatu has beautiful trees that bloom red flowers right around Christmas time, and they are appropriately called Christmas Trees. It was gorgeous to walk around (again, very hot weather) under canopies of red flowers.

  8. I am from Croatia. You are living in Europe now, so maybe you know where it is! :) Our Christmas traditions are bounded with chatolic liturgical year. Advent is very important, lot of people attending matins mass. The main symbol of advent is the advent wreath. Advent wreaths are everyvere: in public institutions, offices, schools… The most important day before Christmas for children is feast of Saint Nicholas, when they receveing gifts from St. Nicolas. Gifts are placed into their boots. There is one more important day during the advent – St. Lucia day. On Santa Lucia day people sow wheat in the pots. If it come up green and healthy, good and aboundant year is in front of us! :) Faitfuls fast on the Christmas Eve. Christmas tree is usually decorated on the Christmas Eve and near by the tree is manger with Holy Family. Many, many people attend Midnigth Mass. Every town and village is ornated with lights and christmas trees on squares, in front of churches, schools etc. You are traveling a lot, come here and see our contry and traditions! ;)

  9. We’re leaving on Sunday to spend Christmas with my husband’s family in Germany. I’ve heard wonderful things about the Christmas markets and am looking forward to visiting some and drinking some hot gluhwein!

    1. Dear Donna,

      how nice! I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here. But unfortunately the weather’s been dreadful! Let’s keeep our fingers crossed for a white Christmas, shall we?
      All the best from Germany

      PS: we also celebrate Saint Nicolaus, have advent wreaths, put in Barbara twigs and celebrate on the 24th. Christmas lights everywhere. Hey, Croatia, Europe! We do have traditions in common, I suppose!

      Fröhliche Weihnachten.

  10. Wow, I think I was meant to live in Europe. That sounds lovely, especially after spending a few hours on the phone trying to track down a potted tree anywhere along the Wasatch front. Oh, Utah.

  11. In 2009 I spent six months in Turkey with my husband who was deployed there for the Air Force. Turkey is a Muslim country and did not celebrate Christmas, but there were “New Years” trees in the foyer of the mall, and random Santas in shop windows. So different to be in a country that was not Christian.

  12. Although I’ve lived in the US for 11 years, I still feel somewhat like I’m spending Christmas in a foreign country! Now that we have a son, I am working hard to combine Norwegian Christmas traditions along with the American ones, and it’s working quite nicely. It makes for a very festive December! :)

  13. From Vienna here – Christmas is glorious with public light displays, krapfen (jelly donuts), St. Nicolo and Krampus (devil figure), Christmas markets with punsch and gluwein, and advents wreaths! The Christmas trees themselves just went on sale today, really!

  14. We have spent Christmas in Uganda twice and it was nice, and way better than the US. Here is seems like everyone is just too busy and real family gatherings are few and far between. In Uganda they have huge gatherings which inclue most of the community. Also I noticed that businesses shut down for at least two weeks during the holiday. Gifts there really come from the heart. Hope you have a great holiday

  15. I spent Christmas in Brazil a few years ago and it was so strange because the closer it got to Christmas the hotter it was.. Christmas trees just don’t have the same feel when it’s 105 degrees outside!!

    1. hahaha!! Half of the world celebrates it with heat! That’s why we make bbqs, hang twinkle lights at the terrace and living trees hold ornaments in the garden. Family dinner is outside, everyone brings something made with love for that gathering, lots of salads and fruit, the kids play with lanterns outside and wait until Santa brings the presents from baby Jesus. Then we all go to the manger and set The Baby on his place with a little prayer. How does it sound? I think I like it better :^)

  16. Swedish and American Christmas traditions go together very well. Christmas eve is the big day in Sweden so we do that first and then we’ll celebrate American style on Christmas day. Santa Claus comes to kids who speak English and the “tomte” comes (in person on Christmas eve!) to those who speak Swedish. Lucky for our kids that they are bilingual! This has worked for us wether living in France, Sweden or now in the US. Before having kids, I loved to travel in December. I have fond memories of Christmas concerts and markets in many European cities. Cosy cafes, winding pedestrian streets, small buildings and huge cathedrals – that’s something that I really miss in America! I hope you’ll get to enjoy lots of that this year!

  17. A few years ago I lived in Moscow, Russia up until December 17th. Everything is “Happy New Years” there instead of Christmas. Still, trees, ice skating rink in Red Square with great big, gorgeous trees, and festive decorations. My favorite were the decorations in the mall that showed ice skating families going to the ice cream booths! I think ice cream is for anytime of the year!

  18. In 2005 our little family spent Christmas in France. It was so wonderful! I have great memories of it. The Galleries Lafayette with it’s lights all over; the outdoor Christmas markets in Aix en Provence. We purchased a little buche de noel on Christmas Eve. Just wait for New Years Day when people jump in your face and yell Bonne Annee!!! It was so fun. Love to do it again.

  19. Thanks for sharing! I love hearing about Christmases all around. It’s always interesting how the smallest differences make such an impact.
    I lived in japan for a year and Christmas doesn’t have much meaning there. It’s more a time to spend with friends and your significant other. It’s New Years that’s the big shindig.
    I’d love to hear of any French Christmas traditions you come across as well!

  20. I spent a Christmas in Brazil and it reminded me more of New Year’s Eve. The big festivities start at midnight on Christmas Eve/Christmas Morning.

    Also, I spent time up until right before Christmas in Belgium. You guys should go to Bruges for their ice sculpture festival!

  21. Well, I’ve lived in the South of France for a long time and your description seems pretty accurate although my children do give their teachers Christmas presents. We’re on the edge of The Camargue here, not far from Provence and Provençal traditions definitely prevail. I wrote a bit about it on Bloesem last year,

    Enjoy your French Christmas!

  22. How refreshing to get a break from the crowds and craziness of black Friday and not to have the season forced upon you in mid November. The community lights sound very nice as well.

  23. I spent two Christmases in Prague when my parents lived there as English teachers. There were so many different and fun traditions! The one that stands out most in my mind is the Carp. About mid December tanks of Carp (large fish) start showing up on the street corners. Everyone buys fresh Carp (you can take it home to butcher it or the seller can do it for you) and eats it with potato salad on Christmas Eve. Seriously, everyone does this. To not have Carp on Christmas Eve is like Americans not having turkey on Thanksgiving (that is you can do it, but it is weird, and you feel like you missed out). Also the baby Jesus is the bringer of gifts, not santa claus. Christmas Eve is when most people celebrate with their families. Christmas day is for visiting with friends and extended family. We had such a great time participating in the traditions that were new to us.

  24. In New Zealand many families have BBQs on the beach — since it’s summer here! But there are many who stencil up snowflakes on windows etc. to simulate what they’ve seen in movies and read in stories. The emphasis here is very much on family.

  25. I do love your detail shots but just once I’d kinda like to see the whole thing. Or even half. Those stencils make great ornaments and I want to see the whole tree!

  26. Is St. Nicholas day a big holiday in your region of France? In Luxembourg it was HUGE. Gift giving occurred on St. Nic Day instead of Christmas (which was celebrated with church and a family dinner.)

  27. We lived in Britain for many years. The chocolates (Turkish Delights) and Christmas Crackers decorating the tree were my favorite. I also loved the Boxing Day tradition.

  28. China has surprised us with signs of Christmas. Large artificial trees outside the occasional business, and plans for an evening celebration in downtown Xi’an by the Drum Tower. When I asked our students why they celebrate it they said it was “interesting.” We’ve inherited an old Santa suit so we’re making big plans to deck out Professor Mac for a jolly appearance at a couple of parties, plus our classrooms. FYI, no teaching of religion is permitted by foreigners such as ourselves, but as a matter of culture we can discuss the nativity.

    聖誕快樂!! Merry Christmas from Xi’an, China!

  29. We spent one Christmas and Normandy and it actually snowed Christmas morning-the only snow in the 13 months we lived there. My parents managed to find a big spectacular tree somewhere, and we left out our shoes to be filled with presents to be more French.
    There was a village Christmas party and every kid got a gift from the mayor-but I don’t remember what I got!!

  30. This is our first year of marriage and we’ve already spent it in three countries. A few months ago we were living in Germany where we picked up our Advent calendars. We are now living in Cyprus, a tiny island in the Mediterranean. I think this will be the warmest Christmas I’ve ever spent. There are no live trees to be found anywhere, but a happy selection of fake trees can be found in abundance and for a reasonable price. Lights are a whole different matter..they’re unbelievably expensive. All of the shops and streets have decorations. Most shops began decorating at the end of October. This Catholic culture is very big on family, so the it seems like everyone is getting into the Christmas spirit.

  31. The one thing I notice here in France is that so many people have the little stuffed santa on their chimney or coming out of their window. Quite popular in our region.

  32. Last year we spent Christmas in China. It was a very different experience than we were used to. It was kind of odd to see tons of lit Christmas trees all around the Olympic Plaza in Beijing, but no one really celebrating Christmas. It seemed that anything the Chinese did that was Christmas related was really done for the foreigners visiting.
    We live in Japan, and although it isn’t a nation with a Christian tradition either, it has a different feel here. There Christmas signs up at stores (especially 7-11, which is quite abundant here), and the occasional display of Christmas lights. The New Years is the really big holiday here, and they will celebrate for 3 days, spending lots of time with family.

  33. I think that the biggest surprise to me about American Christmas, was that places were open for business on Christmas Day – and that people were going to the cinema on Christma Day. In Germany the main difference seemed to be that they celebrated on Christmas Eve. Their decorations were a lot more natural oriented, too – lots of wooden ornaments and home made wreaths made from dropped branches.

    As for England, they have the lights strewn across the main High Street. Pretty much everything closes for Christmas Day – it’s a very family oriented day. Church and presents in the morning, followed by the big turkey dinner at lunchtime, the Queen’s speech, then a big family party in the evening. Games, finger food, Christmas Cake, mince pies, pulling the crackers, paper hats etc. etc. Followed by another big family party the next day on Boxing Day. nb. The sales in the stores start after Christmas.

  34. My husband and I spent Christmas and New Year’s in England about 20 years ago. His brother lives there with his family. Very simular to America, no surprise, I guess. A few differences were after Christmas. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is a holiday for everyone. It was a family dinner day, with relatives. On New Year’s Eve we went to a “Fancy Dress” party. A typical New Year’s party to dress up in costumes and stay up till midnight! Oh…. and they say Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas. Also, everyone keeps up the Christmas tree for 7 days after Christmas, I don’t know why. But it has to be 7 days. I loved the Crackers served with dinner. Not the kind to eat , but gifts that you ‘crack’ open and are filled with Christmas hats and toys. So fun!!!

  35. My family lived in Argentina for five years and the holidays were great! Christmas Eve everyone went to midnight mass and it’s quiet. It’s the middle of summer, so Christmas is kind of like the Fourth of July, everyone headed for the pool/beach and bbq (even fireworks!). It took some getting used to, but we still bbq steaks for Christmas dinner to remember our time there.

  36. In Germany and Austria, it is not uncommon to put real candles on the tree. (Traditionally the tree isn’t put out till the day of Christmas eve and so is fairly fresh. It is then kept up till the 6th of January.) Perhaps that is also common in France? That may explain the lack of or price of lights for the tree.

  37. Hi Gabrielle!

    Here in the Netherlands, December is very busy! Sinterklaas is the big holiday here which is celebreated from the second Saturday of November till Dec. 5th. Children put their shoe out each night (not everyone -including us – do this every night) so that they can receive gifts from “the Sint” or his little helpers, Zwarte Piets (Black Piets). As an American I have issues with the whole idea of the Sint’s helpers (google it, too much to type here) but do to the fact that this is a holiday from my husband’s culture we do celebrate it with our son. Since the presents are handed on out on the evening of the 5th here, this means that there is to be no Christmas decor or tree that may go up until after the 5th. Many Dutch people deam the Christmas extravaganza to be too commericalized and too American. Some may not even exchanged gifts and only have a nice meal But seeing how my husband is Dutch and I being American we celebrate both holidays. We have agreed to hang our advent calendar out on the 1st of the month and out of respect I plan activities to do with our son that corrilate with Sinterklaas until the 6th when everything turns to Santa! :-) Our tree goes up either on the 6th or 7th and we play Christmas music and make cookies from that moment on.

    Enjoy your holiday season the French way!! Since moving here 6 yrs ago I find that I cherish more of my own holidays and traditions now more than I did and have also enjoy adding a few new ones to incorporate.

      1. Yes! It is so hilarious to read and even listen to his rendition. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to really understand this holiday. Your “Vintage Eurocar pictures turned out great! Hope you all are having a fantastic holiday!

  38. I lived in Granada, Spain last year and the holiday season was fabulous! As if the bakeries needed an excuse to stock up on sweets, the window displays were piled high with piononos and King’s Cake for Three Kings Day on January 6. There were lights everywhere and the shops actually stayed open until their posted times! (Shops in Granada tend to close about 45 minutes earlier than posted. It’s the Spanish culture!) :) I ended up in Rome for Christmas weekend with some family that came to visit and it, too, was fantastic! We went midnight mass and did a ton of site-seeing. As much fun as we had, it simply doesn’t compare with Christmas at home in Texas with all of my family around sitting around our tree, singing carols and worshipping our newborn Savior! Needless to say, I’m glad to be home! :)

  39. I love reading about Christmas in France, but I also loved reading everyone’s stories about Christmases abroad – so much fun!

  40. I’m spending my Christmas in the exotic country of Texas, where all the decorations are twice as big and twice as gaudy as everywhere else in the country! I have seen at least three life-sized displays of Santa being pulled in his sleigh by either longhorns or armadillos. Yee-haw!

    I’m loving the descriptions of Christmas all around the world. So wonderful!

  41. When we were living overseas in NZ, Christmas was a big adjustment for this northern girl who is used to a white Christmas. Despite the fact that it was the middle of summer and BBQs were the norm, I had to have some reminder of home. So that year, for several weeks leading up to Christmas, I hand cut dozens of paper snowflakes of all varieties and sizes to put on our tree. I used no other ornaments (they were back in the States) and it turned out to be one of the loveliest we’ve ever had. I still have many of those snowflakes and they make their seasonal showing every year.

  42. I once spent Christmas in Japan, in 1995. It was celebrated more like we would celebrate Valentine’s Day. You buy your sweetheart a present and go out for a fancy lunch or dinner. Most of the ex-pats went to brunch and then to the movies.

  43. We’re spending our first Christmas in France too. It’s definitely much more low key than America, where we have been for the last ten years, or Britain where I grew up. Possibly the easiest part of a French Christmas is the complete lack of any line in the Post Office – I’ve been twice in the last week and have been first in line both times! I wrote about some of the differences we have noticed here:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top