Comparing stories post-Christmas with French colleague Julie Lagarrigue, I was surprised at the cultural disparity between the UK and our French counterparts. What’s more, I assumed that a ‘French Christmas’ would remain largely unchanged dependent on location, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. France has done a tremendous job in upholding ancient and regional traditions, some of which I’ve explored in this blog piece – provided you aren’t all ‘christmassed out’ by this point.
1. Pere Noel has an evil companion Pere Fouettard – ‘Father Whipper’ or ‘Spanking Santa’
Before you call the social services, this anti-Santa type figure is common across continental Europe; such as the Krampus, a half-goat half-demon who roams festive Germany.
In folklore Pere Fouettard is a butcher turned Christmas cannibal, hellbent on eating naughty children. Nowadays, the story is significantly more benign, with the character simply flogging those who appear on the naughty list.
2. In Provence, there’s such thing as treize desserts, that’s right…13 desserts.
Unlike what you might have imagined, treize desserts isn’t some serious cake-on-cake action, it’s more of a religious celebration. The 13 desserts are an ode to Jesus and his 12 apostles, symbolising the last supper, the tradition dictates that each guest must take (a minimum of) one bite of every dessert (something that I can get on board with). The spread typically consists of: nougat, dates, biscuits, almond paste, Buche de Noel, fruits and more!
3. Christmas lasts all month, and gift giving is flexible
Christmas is an entire season in France, starting with St. Nicholas’ Day on the 6th December and ending on the 6th January for the Epiphany. However, Nativity scenes are still displayed until February. Some families exchange gifts as early as St. Nicholas’ Day and are pretty flexible with their celebrations, albeit except…
4. Le Revellion (Christmas Dinner) is eaten on Christmas Eve
Le Revellion literally translates to ‘the awakening’ and is a feast of spectacular proportions, the feast lasts for hours and often the whole extended family are invited. Le Revellion is a classy affair consisting of luxurious local French dishes (what else?), with multiple courses and palette cleansers. A traditional meal may include: oysters, snails, lobster, truffles, poultry, other meats and chestnuts, followed by a yule log (or 13 desserts in Provence).
5. There aren’t Boxing Day sales to waste your Christmas money on
French ‘soldes’ are unique in that they are massively regulated, there are specific sales time-slots that retailers must adhere to - and the winter slot doesn’t usually begin until January. If like me, your Christmas cash is already burning a hole in your pocket by the 26th, this is somewhat of a disappointment. Even WORSE, many people go to work on this day.
Based on this last point, I’m staying put next Christmas.