The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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French Family Christmas

Today I'm participating in a series about Christmas around the world with my blogging friends at Multicultural Kids Blogs so it seemed a good time to tell you about how my French family celebrates.


My first French Christmas was in 1997 pre-children and pre-digital days.  It was a reasonably quiet small affair compared to nowadays with another generation involved.  I was so used to spending Christmases in unusual places that I don't think I registered much about the differences then, other than the very obvious one that the big celebration is on the 24th not the 25th.  (JF and I spent the Christmas before that in 1996 on the Trans-Siberian railway en route from Beijing to Moscow, somewhere in Siberia but that's another story).   In the scanned photo below you can just make out the edge of a slipper under the blue present. More on that later.  We all look so young and I have no idea why JF is sporting a pig's head (though it doesn't surprise me either!)

dommart xmas

French celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, in the evening, with an enormous meal that goes on for hours - it's called le réveillon (from the verb réveiller meaning to wake up or revive).  It's a time when families come together and feast on the best seasonal products, washed down with plenty of champagne and fine wines.  Chez my MIL this starts with an apéritif of amuse-bouche (bite-sized hors d'oeuvres) with champagne usually around 8-8.30 pm. My SILs are very creative makers of apéro nibbles and they always come up with something delicious and original. While the drinks are going on some adults are busy preparing the rest of the meal, some are setting the table (always very beautifully themed and presented) and others making sure the children are having fun.  It's probably not until about 9-9.30 pm that everyone is actually gathered together toasting Christmas in the living room.  Around this time more substantial finger food is brought out for the children as the main meal is still hours away and pretty late for them. This changes every year as the 5 boys get older. 

xmas aperos

Some of the family go to Mass - it's not at midnight but it is a late service and those of us who stay at home just carry on drinking!  Once everyone is back it's time to sit down for the main meal, usually around 11 pm.  This very late eating, especially for the children, is something I'm still not used to and it effectively means the kids snack on finger food and don't really get a proper Christmas meal.  While they stay in the room with us they are not actually participating in the meal and I find it odd not to eat with my children at such a special time of year. Perhaps this year it'll be easier than the last time we were all together 3 years ago as they're all that much older.

Christmas tables

While on the subject of children, add into the mix that Père Noël brings his presents on the 24th BEFORE the kids go to bed.  When all 5 children were younger and believed in the magic of Father Christmas this was a tricky one to pull off.  They had to be distracted somewhere while the gifts were distributed, which in an open-plan house was not easy!  All presents given at Christmas (by my family-in-law) are considered to be from Santa.  This is in stark contrast to the English side of the family where Santa gives small fun things along with fruit and nuts in a stocking and the proper "big" presents are from whoever gives them, such as granma, uncle so and so, godparents etc. Try explaining this to a 5 year old...why he gets a tangerine from Father Christmas in England and a Lego kit from Père Noël in France....


So over the years the timing of the presents for children has changed, but once again, it's something that's done at a different time from the adults and personally, I like to open my gifts with my boys...maybe this year...?  My younger son is the youngest child in the family and I'm not too sure if he still believes in Father Christmas.  He's hinted he's sceptical but hasn't come out with the actual words yet, so this year will be another test of ingenuity.  I don't want the magic to end, but it'll certainly make giving presents with the French in-laws a lot easier when the cat's out of the bag, so to speak. I mentioned a slipper earlier.... everybody puts a slipper out around the tree and presents are distributed in piles on top of each one. When it's time to open the gifts you find your pile and dive on in!  It's an individual experience rather than communal which is different for me but it does make it easier with no one paying any attention if you get something you don't like! For the adults, present opening takes place in the early hours of the morning, after dinner, often as late as 2-3 am. I'm always amazed at everybody's stamina as I'm usually wilting by then!  Some of the kids may have fallen asleep, some may still be up, but they're busy with their new toys and not interested in the adults. (Note the crocodile slipper in the photo above and a couple of slippers on show below).

presents around tree

Back to the meal.  In France there is no real set "Christmas dinner" such as you get in England with roast turkey and all the trimmings followed by a flaming Christmas pud.  But there are certain foods which are associated with les fêtes de fin d'année (which includes New Year's Eve too), notably foie gras.  At my in-laws Christmas meals have always included piles of oysters and prawns and a huge slab of delicious smoked salmon.  I have grown to love foie gras and now don't consider it Christmas without it, but I didn't particularly like it when I first moved to France.  After the entrées of seafood and foie gras, there is a main course - often boudin blanc, a type of white sausage - followed by an impressive and delicious cheese selection, salad and finally dessert.  This is traditionally a bûche de Noël (Yule log).  Every course is served with a diferent wine chosen from the substantial cellar of my late father-in-law.  Every so often a bottle is just too old and sadly corked but mostly we drink very fine wines and I feel very lucky to sample such impressive vintages. The emphasis of the meal is on the finest and freshest of delicious seasonal foods and appreciating them is never a rushed affair.  Dinner usually takes 3-4 hours.

oysters at christmas dinner

Christmas wine

xmas wine

After the presents are all unwrapped we all stumble into bed to catch a little sleep as it's not over yet.  The festivities continue on the 25th with another amazing meal at lunchtime, hosted by one of JF's sisters. Her husband is a boucher/charcutier/traiteur (butcher caterer professional cook) which means we are always guaranteed the most delicious meat and it is at this meal that we sometimes (though not always) have a turkey or capon.  Once again, the meal follows the standard apéro, entrée, main course, cheese, salad and dessert and takes the whole afternoon.  It always ends with some male adults snoozing in armchairs and kids playing with their presents.  There's absolutely no need to eat again that day (nor for a very long time, but funnily enough we do...)

xmas chez cath

So that's how Christmas rolls with my French family.  I'd love to hear from you about your festive traditions.  Don't forget if you want to find out more about Christmas around the world click here for a daily dose of festive fun, every day till the 24th.  Bonnes fêtes everyone!



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  • mammaNoel
    mammaNoel Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    My brother is married to a French Lady. This year her entire family, brothers, sisters theire wives & children etc came to England for Christmas at shirt notice. On 24th they all got together and I and my husband (who were staying in a hotel neraby) were invited for drinks of Christmas Eve as they prepared a delicious réveillon meal. There was clearly masses of food and space at the table.

    However we were not invited - in fact were asked "where are you eating tonight"? So went out and found a restaurant to eat in at the last moment. Is ther some kind of custom that (English) in-laws are not invited?

  • Guest
    Phoebe Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    Hello MammaNoel, no it's certainly not a tradition that English in-laws are not invited! All I can suggest is perhaps they thought you wouldn't want to join them or would be the only English speakers and bored...perhaps? I can't explain this, sorry you didn't get to enjoy the meal, but thanks for commenting on my blog!

  • Guest
    Leanna @ Alldonemonkey Tuesday, 16 December 2014

    This looks wonderful! I love the idea of such a long, luxurious time together with family, but I'm with you - I would definitely be wilting by 2 or 3 am! It is interesting how this affects the children and their participation. Thanks for sharing!

  • Guest
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault Monday, 15 December 2014

    Despite living in France our Christmas is still a very English affair which, after reading this, I think my waistline is eternally grateful for! It is always so interesting to read how other cultures celebrate and I would love to know how the differences came about: stockings in one country, slippers in another etc. I feel some research may need to be done.

  • Susanna
    Susanna Friday, 12 December 2014

    Interesting post. I've never heard about the slippers or everything being from Père Noël even though I've lived in France since 2000. Of course, neither my husband nor I are French so we have mostly kept our Canadian traditions and added foie gras and bûche de Noël to our Christmas menu.

  • Guest
    Kara Thursday, 11 December 2014

    I love seeing everyones Christmas traditions - not so different to ours

  • Guest
    agata Thursday, 11 December 2014

    Your table look beautiful! So festive and elegant.

  • Guest
    Jen Thursday, 11 December 2014

    Wow, so different. I loved finding out about your Christmas times in France. I am not sure I could stay up that late in the evening and eat all that fabulous food

  • Guest
    Richard Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Do you, with your French/English split, have other discrepancies to explain to your two boys? If their English rellies send them presents by post, do you so arrange things that these are shoved into the heap from Pere Noel, or are they allowed to know who they really came from? And, if the latter, what do you or they say to their 100% French cousins? Tricky!

  • Guest
    http://Rachel Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Wow it must have been amazing to have been on the Trans-Siberian railway, especially at Christmas Time x

  • Guest
    Stephen Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    What a great post this was, so interesting to read other people's traditions

  • Guest
    Catherine Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    One of the funniest Christmas that I know was when my mother and sister celebrated with a tomato sandwich and a bottle of wine. They said it was too hot to eat in the country in New South Wales Australia

  • Guest
    Laura Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    It's fascinating how different countries celebrate Christmas. I'm not sure I could stay up so late on the 24th though!

  • Guest
    Ryan Costello Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Wow British Santa is busy... he doesn't have time to deliver that amount everywhere you know! lol. Of course you ate again. Thats what Christmas is all about. Sod presents and family.... bring me more food! ;)

  • Guest
    Foz Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    I don't celebrate christmas but I love hearing about how everyone else does!

  • Guest
    Stephs Two Girls Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    It's so nice to read about other traditions like this, would be nice to experience it too - but just once! I like my English Christmas ;)

  • Guest Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    This is such an interesting post. I loved the bit about the stingy British Santa! So fascinating to see the small but important differences in Christmas elsewhere.

  • pinkoddy
    pinkoddy Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    Oh I have said for ages how great it would be to move to France (apart from the fact that my French is appalling!) and now this - sounds amazing. We have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve here.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    I wonder where you're from Pinkoddy that you celebrate on the 24th.

  • Guest
    Rosie Corriette Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    Love the look of your French Christmas - I'm always fascinated by how other countries and cultures celebrate Christmas. For us we have a 'traditional' Christmas by English standards but as I'm half Iranian there's always way too much baklava!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Sounds like a lovely and delicious mix Rosie.

  • Guest
    Globalmouse Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    Ah looks like a really fun, festive time. For us Father Christmas brings all the presents too... Love reading about different traditions!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Thanks for stopping by Globalmouse

  • Guest
    corinna Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    Very interesting reading. I think there are differences within the UK regarding Santa as many of my children's friends receive everything from the jolly man and not their parents. This discrepancy was the key to my daughter working out that perhaps he's not real as he wouldn't leave a scooter or iPad for one child and a satsuma and pencil for her!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    clever girl!

  • Guest
    Kate Thompson Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    What a fabulous post- I love reading about other traditions, especially Christmas ones. I've experienced "Navidad" in the Canaries but that's about it!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    I bet that was very different to an English Christmas Kate!

  • Guest
    pauline Tuesday, 09 December 2014

    I miss my "French Christmas" so much... Now that I live in England we have to do it the English way and I don't really find it that special.
    Brilliant post! It tool me back in time!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 10 December 2014

    Delighted to hear from a Frenchie first, really pleased you liked my post Pauline. :)

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