Slow life in the French country

A Christmas in France

The first snowflakes have fallen. Winter has definitely set in. If I listen carefully, I can almost hear the jingle of Santa’s sleigh bells.
Like many of us I love this time of year when everyone gets together to share beautiful family moments. I remember how magical I found these moments as a child. I am now convinced that they are. We all want beautiful holidays, to make them magical for our children as well as sweet and enjoyable for those we love. I am sure that all the energy we spend when we prepare for the holidays, … it all the love we put into the preparations, and all the joy we feel when that day arrive, all floats through the air.
One of the things that also makes this time of year magical is the Christmas traditions that we enjoy keeping alive each year. They make these moments unique and unforgettable and often convey beautiful values. Here are some of my favorite Christmas traditions in France:

The Advent calendar

Every morning since December 1st, Giulia enjoys a little chocolate that she finds in her advent calendar. Born in Germany in the 19th century, the advent calendar quickly crossed the border to France. In order to make the children enjoy the wait until December 24th, each morning, they have get to open, a box of their calendar. In the past they received a new picture every day. Nowadays, advent calendars are more and more original. If those with chocolate have generally been the preference of children, now there are calendars tailored to the preferences of adults. Some examples are the beauty version like l’occitane or sephora wich give the individual a new beauty product every day or gourmet versions like Dammann frères with a new tea to taste each morning.

Christmas decorations

We then decorate the house. Since I was little, decorating the tree has been one of my favorite rituals. When I was little with my sisters, the day the tree arrived was a day of celebration. We listened to Christmas carols while decorating the tree with my mother. The final touch was always given by my father who placed the star on top of the tree. This year, for the first time, Giulia helped me to decorate the tree. She understood that the Christmas tree baubles were fragile and was very careful. I find in her eyes the same wonder that my sisters and I had as children when the tree was lit. She gets up every morning and goes down to see if it is still there!

Another important tradition in France among Catholics is the Christmas crib. Placed at the foot of the Christmas tree, the crib represents the scene of the birth of the baby Jesus with the arrival of the Magi. The tradition of the crib is very old, since it dates back to the Middle Ages. Legend has it that Francis of Assisi created the first living crib in history.
Little by little, the actors who played the characters of the crib were replaced by figurines.
After the French revolution, the churches were closed and the cribs were forbidden. It is then that in Provence small characters called “Santoun” (which means “small Saints”) were created so that anyone could make a crib in the intimacy of his or her home. The santons of Provence were very successful, and, in 1803, the first santon fair was inaugurated in Marseille, and still exists today. Nowadays there are many santons that complement the usual characters of the crib. One can thus recreate in one’s crib a true Provencal village!


The letter to Santa Claus

Another tradition that children are particularly fond of is sending a letter to Santa Claus. At the end of November/beginning of December, the children send a letter to Santa Claus containing their wish list and Santa answers them! Did you know that Santa’s secretariat is located in France? In the 1950’s, a nice lady who worked at the post office started answering the letters she received for Santa Claus from the children in her village. For ten years, she answered all the children’s letters with the help of the postwoman, the local teacher and some other villagers. It is a beautiful story that does not stop there since the story goes up to the government. You should know that in France, Santa Claus is not a joke! Thus, in 1962 the secretariat of Santa Claus was officially created by the government! Today, this secretariat answers more than 1 million letters from children all over the world addressed to Santa Claus. So, even if you don’t live in France you can write to him by mail or by e-mail!


Christmas markets

During the month of December, we also take advantage of the Christmas markets that are held in each city. You can find everything related to Christmas at these markets, for example, for example, the opportunity to find your gifts while tasting a good mulled wine. The most famous in France is undoubtedly the one in Strasbourg. It is also one of the oldest in the world, since it dates back to 1570 and attracts thousands of visitors every year!

Christmas sweets

Christmas is of course associated with many traditional recipes and sweets that we enjoy throughout the month of December. In France, one of the most famous and appreciated sweets are the papillotes! These little chocolates, wrapped in a shiny paper, were created in the 18th century in Lyon. Legend has it that the young clerk of a confectioner had the idea, in order to charm the lady of his heart, to send little love notes wrapped around a confectionery. He was surprised by his boss, Mr. Papillot, who found the idea interesting. Papillot then decided to sell confectionery accompanied by proverbs or quotations. Generally with chocolate or fruit paste, Papillotes delight us throughout the month of December well as other delicacies: gingerbread, hot chestnuts, truffles, Christmas cookies, mulled wine, nougat, marzipan, candied fruits, clementines, ect

The Christmas carols

Christmas carols accompany us throughout the month of December. We hear them in stores, Christmas markets, on the radio and we teach them to young children. The most famous of them and certainly the most loved by children is: « Petit Papa Noël » (« Little Santa Claus »). Giulia has know it by heart since she was 2 years old and sings it to us regularly, even in the middle of summer! It is the French song with the highest sales of all time.


The Christmas meal

An essential part of Christmas celebrations is of course the preparation of the meal. As is often the case, the meal is a key element of the holidays in France. I have a large family and we like to gather everyone around a good meal on the evening of December 24th. We usually do it again the next day at noon with my in-laws! The Christmas meal in France is a typical example of a long traditional meal! Many dishes are served and exceptional local products are honored!

I love preparing the Christmas Eve meal with my mother. Several weeks in advance we start to think about the composition of the menu. We all get out our cookbooks for inspiration. There are some “classics” that come up every year, but we also like to innovate so we don’t make the same menu every time.

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Here is this year’s menu:


Traditionally there is always seafood at Christmas dinners un France, so, to “lighten” this meal a bit
we will serve seafood as an appetizer, accompanied, of course, by champagne!

  • Oysters
  • Scallop tartar
  • Blinis of salmon gravelax

Foie gras is a staple of festive meals in France. I like to prepare it “au torchon” which is a traditional style of preparation for the recipe. We eat it with walnut bread and fig jam for a perfect sweet and sour combination.
It will be accompanied by a Sauternes for a drink.


This year we will deviate from the traditional “turkey with chestnuts”. One of my favorite dishes is beef Wellington. Stuffed with foie gras and mushroom duxelles and wrapped in homemade puff pastry, it’s a real treat. It will be accompanied by anna potatoes, and it goes perfectly with a good red wine from Bordeaux.


There is no holiday meal without a cheese platter. Composing a cheese platter is an art
in itself! There is a minimum of 5 cheeses from different families and regions: hard cheeses, blue cheeses, soft cheeses, goat’s and sheep’s cheese, ect


In France, we traditionally close the Christmas meal with a “bûche”. The « bûche » (log) is a rolled cake historically based on a cookie Joconde and filled with butter cream. Nowadays, pastry chefs compete with each other in imagination and create new « bûches » with varied flavors each year.This year we chose a “Montblanc bûche » made with meringue, vanilla chantilly and blueberries.
In addition to the « bûche » we put the “13 desserts of Christmas” on the table. This tradition, which comes from the South of France, was dear to my grandmother. Each of these 13 desserts represents the Last Supper with Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles. They are usually presented in a large dish. According to tradition, they remain on the table for 3 days after Christmas where everyone can eat them to symbolize sharing.
They are composed of :

  • Pompe à l’huile (a kind of cookie between bread and brioche made with olive oil)
  • Nuts
  • Dried figs
  • Dried grapes
  • Dates
  • White nougat
  • Black nougat
  • Red nougat
  • Calissons
  • Seasonal fruits (clementines, oranges, mandarins)
  • 1 watermelon
  • Candied fruits
  • Quince paste

Christmas is the occasion to take out my grandmother’s china to set a beautiful table that we decorate with branches of holly or fir trees, papillotes and candles.

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Shoes under the tree

The last tradition to close this beautiful Christmas Eve : before going to bed, we put our shoes in front of the tree. If we have been very good, Santa Claus should come during the night and put presents in front of our shoes!

Like many people around the world, this holiday season is all about getting together, sharing and giving lots of love. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season surrounded by your loved ones.

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