Like many countries in Western Europe, the Christmas season in France begins with Saint Nicholas’ Day, December 6th. Family celebrations begin with the decoration of the Christmas tree a few days before Christmas.
At Christmas time nearly every French home, as well as many churches, displays a Nativity scene or crèche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. The crèche is often peopled with little clay figures called santons or “little saints.”
At midnight everyone attends the Christmas mass. All the churches and cathedrals are magnificently lit and echo the joyful melodies of carols ans bells. Ordinarily, young children do not attend midnight mass with their parents, but go to bed early to dream of their Christmas gifts. Before going to bed, they put their shoes by the fireside to get a gift from “le père de Noël” (Santa Claus). When the children are asleep, little toys, sweets and fruits are hung on the branches of the tree as a supplement to the gifts from “le père de Noël”.
The main Christmas feast is quite grand and is known as ‘Le Reveillon’, served as a very late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The meal varies according to the region of France. Once dinner is over and the family has retired to bed, they leave a fire burning and food and drink on the table in case the Virgin Mary calls in.