Today’s post is from Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge and it delivers another dose of French culture. As the title suggests, here we are delving into the world of French holiday traditions.
When I first read Sherry’s piece, it got me thinking about our own holiday traditions – or rather, the lack of them. The festive season in Australia is funny thing. It is generally hot, and snow covered ornaments and traditional Christmas food seems distinctly out of place.
However, I do have a personal tradition that I follow each year. Unsurprisingly, it is a style one…
Every Christmas, I like to wear a dress.
Sometimes it is casual, some years it is a little more dressy. I have no idea where this yearly ritual came from. No one else in my family necessarily follows this tradition, and as a rule, I’m not a big dress wearer. However, I just don’t feel like it’s Christmas if I’m not wearing a frock
But enough about me and my quirks – time to hand over to Sherry.
French Holiday Traditions
There are a few things I learned from my partner that are some French traditions for Francophones that no matter where you live, you try and follow during the holidays if you are used to doing so.
We don’t do all of these traditions, and have only observed the one that my partner has kept from his own family traditions.
Le Lutin – The Elf On A Shelf
We don’t do this with Baby Bun (it looks kind of freaky, this toy), but I have a colleague who has kept this up for his son for 10 years. He thinks this year is the last one, but the whole thing is to have kids believe that an Elf (Le lutin) is actually watching you to report back to Santa (Père Noël) if you have been naughty or nice.
He does things like arrange Le lutin doing things that are naughty, like spilling cereal all over the counter, or sitting in front of a television that is turned on to cartoons, and being in the middle of the mess to be ‘caught’ by his son. He even set up an elaborate rig where his son walked in the door one day and Le lutin flew around the room and landed on the couch, which made his son believe even more strongly in Le lutin being real and ‘alive’ at night, doing things. His son wakes up every morning and comes rushing home from school to see what Le lutin has done.
The only downside to all of this, is his son has also started to use Le lutin to blame things he has done upon, and it’s hilarious to us because he can’t really give it away that Le lutin is not real, so he has to suck it up and play along for the period of time.
Le Réveillon De Noël – The Christmas Eve Meal
This is a big meal that Francophones do before Christmas Day (on Christmas Eve), and it is done in other countries as well, but in my experience it has not been a real formal cultural tradition I have observed in Anglophones in North America. It’s just a celebratory dinner the night before of turkey and so on, rather than on the actual Christmas Day. It usually happens before Midnight Mass (if they choose to go to church), and I have been told it is just like a Christmas meal, but the day before instead.
Galette Des Rois – King’s Cake
This is the ONE tradition we observe where you purchase something called a Galette des rois which is this delicious, crusty pastry cake with almond filling, and inside is either a little ceramic toy or bean that is hidden. You slice up the cake, and whoever gets the slice with the toy or bean in it, will have the best year of all. He or She is then crowed Le roi / La reine (The King / The Queen) and you wear the paper crown that comes along with the cake.
You buy a Galette des rois from any reputable French bakery, and our favourite happens to be a Belgian bakery in downtown Montreal, at Complexe Desjardins. It is the best out of all the bakeries we have tried because it isn’t too greasy from the major amounts of butter used, and not too sugary sweet either.
Baby Bun will be experiencing this for the first time this Christmas, because he was too young to have cake and anything sweet last year.
Even at work, when it was Christmastime, my Francophones from France went out to buy a Galette des rois to share with a select few of us working together.
La Bûche De Noël – Christmas Yule Log
We don’t do this either but my other colleague makes La bûche de Noël each year. She decorates the cake to look like a log and spends time making it to eat during the holidays. Her kids love the tradition and enjoy seeing the new flavour and/or decor for the year.
If you aren’t a baker, you can also just go to a bakery and buy one pre-made. They make different flavours and have different decorations, and I am told they make them way in advance for the Christmas season and store them in the fridge (otherwise it would be too much of a strain and workload to make them fresh the day of).
Thank you Sherry for sharing these traditions with us. I’m so grateful to you for expanding our knowledge of French culture. You can check out Sherry’s previous posts here and here.
Do you have any favourite French holiday traditions? What about a style tradition? If so, I’d love for you to share them in the comments section below.
Wishing everyone a fabulous holiday season! May it be filled with love, health and happiness. And perhaps a smidge of French style and fun.
Until next time – au revoir.
10 thoughts on “French Holiday Traditions”
All these are familiar except for le lutin. I wonder how the kid is going to take it when he is told it’s fake! I know quite a few kids who were furious with their parents over Santa Claus, and le lutin seems like a step up from that.
In the north they also have a kind of brioche called cougnou, which are sold only between Christmas and New Years. Plain, with chunks of sugar inside (kind of like Liège waffles), with raisins or with chocolate chips.
I have no idea how le lutin will go over when kids find out it was a hoax. I don’t plan on ever doing Père Noël or Le Lutin for Baby Bun because we never did it in our home and my partner didn’t either, for exactly that reason — to be then told it’s a lie.
Oooooo that sounds good. It sounds a lot like my favourite French pastry – chouquettes.
Hi Catherine. Thank you for letting us know about cougnou. It sounds fabulous – I’ll have to time my travels to ensure I get a chance to check it out. And Sherry and I have been doing a little digging into why you might not have heard about le lutin. It seems our elf is a mischievous little fellow – it appears he might be masquerading as ‘more French’ than he actually is. Thanks to a knowledgable DF reader, we’ve discovered that the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ is actually an American tradition that sprang up over a decade ago. Like many traditions, it was adopted – and assimilated – by other cultures around the world. What really interests me in this is how quickly ‘new traditions’ can become ‘global traditions’.
Yes thank you kindly for debunking!
“Say Yes to the Dress!” I am totally going to adopt this tradition, such an easy way to make the day special. Christmas is a special day that really merits a bit of style. A dress need not be uncomfortable; I have a black velour knee-skimming bateau-neck shift with 3/4 sleeves that is now calling to me to accessorize it with a pretty silk Christmas scarf and ballerinas. It will be as comfortable as jeans and a top, but so much more chic! I LOVE this idea – merci!
Or just a slim, simple jersey shift that is looser 😉 That’s what I wear.
Hi Alisa – if you don’t mind I think I am going to turn “Say Yes to the Dress!” into my personal catchphrase for the holiday season. I love it.
And I can picture your outfit already – it is going to look stunning. Wishing you only good things for the holiday season!!
I love the idea of wearing a dress/frock on Christmas Day. It makes the celebration more special and reminds me of childhood when dresses were always worn for more formal occasions. I suppose it does depend on where you are celebrating – but even the beach can call for a kaftan.
Thanks Jan – yes – you are so right about the ‘where’. If we are doing Christmas poolside (which must seem so strange to our Northern Hemisphere friends) then my dress will be quite casual. But if we are doing a sit down affair, I will go with something more dressy. I’m a little nervous this year – I decided to put together an outfit using two different internet sites. Part of this ensemble has arrived…but the dress part hasn’t. This is entirely my fault for not thinking about what I was going to wear sooner…I’m hoping that the worldwide delivery services help me out!!!