Christmas in France
In France, Christmas is a time for family and for generosity, marked by family reunions, gifts and candy for children, gifts for the poor, Midnight Mass, and le Réveillon.The celebration of Christmas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, which is a bank holiday. However, in eastern and northern France, the Christmas season begins on 6 December, la fête de Saint Nicolas, and in some provinces la fête des Rois* is one the most important holidays of the Christmas season.( *Epiphany (la fête des Rois) is usually celebrated the 6th of January, but in some places in France it is celebrated the first Sunday after January 1st).
In Lyon, 8 December is la Fête de lumières, when Lyonnais pay hommage to the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows which light up the village.French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight. In some regions there's also Père Fouettard who gives out spankings to bad children (sort of the equivalent of Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty).In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response.
Throughout the French Christmas season, there are special traditional desserts:
• La bûche de Noël (Yule log) - A log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. Representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day in the Périgord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration.
• Le pain calendeau (in southern France) - Christmas loaf, part of which is given to a poor person.
• La Galette des Rois (on Epiphany) - round cake which is cut into pieces and distributed by a child, known as le petit roi or l'enfant soleil, hiding under the table. Whoever finds la fève - the charm hidden inside - is King or Queen and can choose a partner.
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