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Celebrating Christmas and New Year in French Style

As the festive season approaches, the French embrace the spirit of joy and merriment in their own unique way. Christmas (Noël) and New Year’s Eve (Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre) are celebrated with a blend of traditions, delicious cuisine, and a touch of French elegance. Let’s delve into the enchanting world of French holiday celebrations.


Christmas Eve Feast

christmas dinner

In France, the Christmas season officially begins on December 6th, known as Saint Nicholas Day. But the “Réveillon de Noël,” or Christmas Eve dinner, is where it’s at in France.

French Christmas traditions often involve celebrating on the 24th rather than the 25th, with families coming together for the “Réveillon.” Traditional dishes for the Réveillon include foie gras, oysters, escargot, and a festive Yule log-shaped cake known as “bûche de Noël.” The feast is often accompanied by fine French wines and champagne, and families exchange gifts as part of the joyous celebration.

After the festive feast, it’s common for families to visit the church for a midnight Mass, immersing themselves in the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Additionally, many families set up nativity scenes at home, commemorating the birth of Jesus.

Vocabulaire culinaire de Noël (Christmas Culinary Vocabulary):

  • Le foie gras: Foie gras
  • Les huîtres: Oysters
  • Les escargots: Snails
  • La bûche de Noël: Yule log cake
  • Le champagne: Champagne
  • Le Père Noël: Santa Claus Les lutins: Elves
  • Le calendrier de l’Avent: Advent calendar
  • La veille de Noël: Christmas Eve


Christmas Day

Christmas presents

On Christmas Day, the joy continues with families gathering to open gifts, especially for those with young kids who eagerly unwrap their presents with excitement.

French families embrace various activities on Christmas Day, often enjoying quality time together. Many families take part in outdoor activities, such as walks in picturesque winter landscapes or even engaging in friendly snowball fights.

A beloved French tradition during the Christmas season is the enchanting Christmas markets (marchés de Noël). These markets, found in various cities and towns, offer a magical atmosphere with stalls selling festive treats, crafts, and holiday decorations. Families delight in exploring these markets, savoring seasonal delights and finding unique gifts.

In the north-east of France, the day after Christmas, known as “La fête de la famille,” holds special significance. It is a specific local tradition and an official holiday dedicated to celebrating family bonds.

Vocabulaire de Noël (Christmas Vocabulary):

  • Le Père Noël: Santa Claus
  • Le sapin de Noël: Christmas tree
  • Les cadeaux: Gifts
  • La crèche de Noël: Nativity scene
  • Les lumières de Noël: Christmas lights
  • Le sapin de Noël: Christmas tree
  • Les décorations de Noël: Christmas decorations
  • Les biscuits de Noël: Christmas cookies
  • Le marché de Noël: Christmas market


New Year’s Eve Celebrations

NYE France

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, the French gather for the Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre. This celebration often involves a festive meal, fireworks, and toasting to the New Year with champagne. Many people attend public events or private parties to welcome the coming year.

Vocabulaire du Nouvel An (New Year Vocabulary):

  • Le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre: New Year’s Eve celebration
  • Les feux d’artifice: Fireworks
  • Les résolutions: Resolutions
  • Les cotillons: Confetti and streamers
  • La fête du Nouvel An: New Year’s party


Welcoming the New Year

NY Wishes

After the clock strikes midnight, it’s a tradition to exchange kisses, known as “la bise,” and wish each other “Bonne année!” (Happy New Year). The French often send New Year’s cards (cartes de vœux) to friends and family to extend their best wishes for the upcoming year.

Expressions du Nouvel An (New Year Expressions):

  • Bonne année: Happy New Year
  • Meilleurs vœux: Best wishes
  • Santé!: Cheers!
  • La bise: The kiss on the cheek
  • Cartes de vœux: New Year’s cards


In France, the holiday season is a magical time filled with warmth, love, and delicious food. Whether you’re enjoying a festive Christmas Eve dinner or counting down to the New Year with fireworks and champagne, the French traditions add a touch of elegance to the celebrations. As you immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere, take the opportunity to learn these French words and phrases to fully embrace the spirit of Noël et du Nouvel An! Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

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