Dreaming of a French Christmas? Whether to enjoy the Christmas holidays formally or solely for the seasonal festivities, France – from Paris to Colmar, Bordeaux across to Annecy, down to Nice and then away to Corsica – is a true winter wonderland at Christmastime. With a chocolat chaud ou vin chaud (hot chocolate or mulled wine) in hand let this blog help transport you there.
Paris in winter is peaceful and calm and a layer of snow makes for a magical atmosphere. Towards the end of November, the Christmas lights are switched on and the Champs-Elysées, Faubourg and Rue Saint-Honoré, and Place Vendome are some of the major roads that glitter and glow festively in the night. While decked inside chic department stores including the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are the most glamorous and creative of Christmas displays.
In the capital, some of the grander Christmas markets include those at the Jardin des Tuileries, La Défense, the Marché de Noel Paris Notre Dame, and the Champ-de-Mars Christmas Village. For a quieter, less overwhelming variation, visit the more petite Christmas market alongside the church of Saint Germain des Prés, which specializes in delicious food and handcrafts. Other affairs, in which to partake or experience at a safe distance, include ice-skating at the Champ-de-Mars near the Eiffel Tower or inside the world's largest rink at the Grand Palais.
Some museums are open on Christmas day, including the Musée Jacquemart-André, pictured above.
Paris with Sacré-Cœur Basilica, Montmartre, in the distance
The famous crèche de Noël at Église de la Madeleine
For memorable auditory impressions of the season, attend sacred music concerts at the Philharmonie de Paris and the Église Saint-Eustache. On Christmas Eve, experience an unforgetable Midnight Mass at Église Saint Sulpice, Église de la Madeleine, Église de Saint-Germain-de-Pres (the city's oldest church), or the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral.
Europe is famous for its Christmas markets, and while this tradition originated in Germany in the Middle Ages, France has its own iterations to dazzle and enthrall the beholder. The northeastern Alsatian city of Colmar puts on award-winning displays each year. You will need to pinch yourself a few times while strolling past the painted, charming German-infused buildings in the old town that you are not in a fairy tale. There is also a quarter known as Little Venice, where children will be thrilled to discover a chalet farm and petting zoo, among other festive delights.
BordeauxAt Christmas there are three different markets to enjoy in the southwestern port city, Bordeaux. The traditional one is in the square, where you will find a beautiful nativity scene, gifts, carousels, and Père Noël. To shop for goods produced by young designers step onto the Le Super Marché de Noël, a ferry boat. For local art and artisan creations head to the contemporary art space at Ecosystème Darwin.
Annecy is a medieval town built on a network of canals that fork off Lake Annecy in France’s Rhone Alps region. Unlike some of the larger European Christmas markets, Annecy still sells wares that have been made locally, by the people of Haute-Savoie.
Strolling through the character-filled old cobbled streets, feeling the restorative mountain air and the magnificent view of the Alps and the Lake, one cannot but imbibe the Christmas spirit.
A hotel in the French Alps
Nice dresses up spectacularly for the holiday season. While promenading around the center of the second largest Provençale city you will encounter a special Christmas market and ice-skating rink. There are Christmas traditions that are unique to Provence and they abound in Nice. Be sure to admire the small clay one-of-a-kind nativity figurines (or santons) and test out all 13 traditional Christmas desserts characteristic of the region.
Above is an example of a santon.
Like Provence, Corsica has its own singular Christmas traditions. One is known as the "seven evenings.” The week before Christmas children of the village gather together and call on seven families, each evening a different family. The young guests come bearing a log to be burned in their host's fireplace, around which they will break bread together and share tales and stories. While it is possible also to visit charming Christmas markets here, the traveller has the choice of spending time by the sea or skiing in the mountains, of which there are three resorts: Val d’Ese, Monte Renoso, and Col de Vergio.
We hope you have a wonderful and relaxing holiday season with loved ones en France or elsewhere!
You may also wish to visit our cheering French gifts colection for inspiration on thoughtful presents and while you're there, treat yourself!
Frequently asked questions
1. What are some French Christmas traditions?
There are some Christmas traditions that occur all over France, such as attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve - when presents are usually exchanged as well. Spending time with friends and family over champagne, oysters, and winter truffles is a luxury the French return to year after year. But there are some yuletide rituals that are performed region to region.
One example of this is The Les Treize Desserts de Noël (the 13 desserts of Christmas), which is specific to Provence. The gastronomic lore involves eating thirteen desserts usually after attending the Midnight Mass and participating in the les gros souper (the big supper), where a petite roast goose is served. These desserts, which include dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruit, and sweets, have become associated with Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles at the Last Supper. Traditionally the sweets are tasted between December 24 and 26. The specific desserts vary depending on the local and familial region in Provence.
The Les Treize Desserts de Noël are made up of the following:
The Four Beggars, or first four desserts can be any of the following and mostly represent different monastic orders:
- Raisins (Dominicans)
- Walnuts or hazelnuts (Augustinians)
- Dried figs (Franciscans)
- Almonds (Carmelites)
- Dates, representing the Three Wise Men and the region from which Jesus came
- Dried plums from Brignoles
Depending on the setting one or more of the following fresh fruits:
- Winter melon
The remaining desserts can be any of the following sweets:
- Biscotins (biscuits) from Aix-en-Provence
- Calissons d'Aix (a marzipan-like candy made from almond paste and candied melon)
- Candied citron
- Casse-dents of Allauch (biscuit)
- Cumin and fennel seed biscuits
- Fried bugnes (or angel wings)
- Fruit tourtes (or fruit tarts)
- Oreillettes (light thin waffles)
- Pain d'epices (or spiced bread)
- Pompes à l'huile or fougasse à l'huile d'olive (a sweet cake or brioche made with orange flower water and olive oil)
- Pâte de coing (quince cheese/quince paste)
- Bûche de Noël (Yule log)
- Two kinds of nougat (often from Montelimar, a town famous for its nougat)
- Nougat noir au miel (black nougat with honey, a hard candy made with honey and almonds)
- Nougat blanc (white nougat, a soft candy made with sugar, eggs, pistachios, honey, and almonds)
Another tradition, which occurs on the island of Corsica involves children of the local village paying calls on their neighbours. The "seven evenings" take place the week leading up to Christmas. The young guests visit a different family each evening bearing a log to be burned in their host's fireplace, around which they will break bread together and share tales and stories.
2. What are some fun things to do in Paris over the December holiday season?
Paris has lots to offer the tourist at Christmastime. There are a number of large and smaller Christmas markets held in the grounds of some of the major churches (such as Notre Dame and the Saint Germain des Prés) and under the Eiffel Tower. There are also fantastic ice-skating rinks that will send you into the Christmas spirit, one indoors at the Grande Palais or outside at the Champ-de-Mars, with a view of the Eiffel Tower on full Christmas display. Other activities include attending Christmas mass services, and festive Christmas concerts at Philharmonie de Paris and the Église Saint-Eustache. Stunning Christmas windows and displays can be discovered in the major malls, including Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. The major shopping meccas, Champs-Elysées, Faubourg and Rue Saint-Honoré, and the Place Vendome, traditionally are decorated for the festive season as well and definitely worth strolling down in the evening.
3. Where can I find Christmas markets that specialise in handmade and locally-crafted goods?
It is possible to find markets that sell produce local to the area and have a wonderful range of artisan made wares all over France, but particularly in the smaller markets. The Christmas markets in the Alsace region where France borders Germany and Switzerland are famous (those of Colmar, Strasbourg, Mulhouse in particular) and will help put you in the Christmas spirit as well as fill Christmas stockings.
Photo sources: fastncurious.fr, Instagram, the Musée Jacquemart-André, Le Parisien, huntingthemoment.com, Paris Perfect Rentals, Elena Dijour/Shutterstock and Nicotrex/Shuttershock both via Fodors, gosouthfrance.com, parisdiscoveryguide.com, luxeadventuretraveler.com, lesoliviersdepalombaggia.fr and Chez Pluie
Prior to crediting images to Pinterest or Instagram we attempt to find the original source via an extensive online search. If any displayed images are yours please contact us and we will gladly update this article accordingly.Gifts collection. If you are looking for children's presents, please visit our Toys & Games collection.