In some parts of France (more particularly in Alsace), Christmas comes early when Santa Claus brings small gifts and sweets for children on December 6th, the feast day of Saint-Nicolas. In France, Father Christmas is called “Père Noël”. In Eastern France, he can be accompanied by “Le Père Fouettard”, a “not very friendly man” dressed in black who will happily “reward” children who didn’t behave with a spanking. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands. Well, the reason why I’m saying “a not very friendly man” is because being born and raised in Alsace (in the north East of France) I was extremely scared of “le père fouettard”. All the children in my family used to hide in the house 30 minutes before midnight as we were told (by the adults of course) that “Monsieur le père fouettard (the father spanker)” was probably coming to visit us especially kids who had not been very kind during the year. Even though I was a very kind little girl, I was scared to death.
Anyway, it was just a legend that all my northern family loved to keep alive…We never saw “le père fouettard” but just heard his loud and heavy steps from our hidden places…
How do French people celebrate Christmas?
Well, French people start celebrating Christmas on the 24th of December so on Christmas Eve (le réveillon) the family gather at home for a big feast. This usually consists of oysters (les huîtres), snails (les escargots), seafood (les fruits de mer) smoked salmon (saumon fumé), foie gras, a giant cheese platter and a Christmas log (une bûche de Noël) for dessert . On the 25th of December, on Christmas day, goose and turkey are common main dishes, goose being preferred in Alsace and turkey in Burgundy, for example. Both often appear with chestnut stuffing; the French are particularly fond of chestnuts !
Another celebration, more particularly in Provence (South East of France) is that 13 different desserts are eaten! All the desserts are made from different types of fruit, nuts and pastries and they represent Christ and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper . They are not proper desserts but just little “snacks” that remain on the table until you eat them all!
– White and black nougat
– The fougasse, or pompe à huile (literally: oil pump)
– Candied fruits
– The “mendiants” (literally: beggars): nuts, almonds, dried figs, hazelnuts, grapes, apples, pears and prunes, and sometimes even quinces and persimmons (kakis).
Here is a list of Useful Christmas Vocabulary in French
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