Traditional Christmas Greeting: "Joyeux Noel" "Zorionak eta Urte Berri On" (Basque)
Location: Western Europe
Tree Type: Traditional

Decorations:

  • The dolls represent the various regions of France on the tree you will see dolls representing the regions of Provence, Poitou, Normandie, Bretagne, Franche-Comte, Guyenne, Basque, Alsace and Bresse.
  • The flowers, lily colored roses, the apples and sugar represent the tree in the Garden of Eden.
  • The toys, candles and fruit are more modern decorations.
  • Garland is usually silver and gold
  • The crystal balls are of different color and are a more recent addition to French trees.
  • Pinecones of silver and gold are also added to the tree.

Traditions: The Christmas Season begins on Saint Martin's day, November 11, and ends on January 6 with the feast of the Epiphany. Advent (Adventus), the coming of the arrival, lasts four weeks and is accompanied by religious rituals to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. In the past this was a period of fasting, preparing for the Christmas meal by butchering a pig, making pastries, and cleaning and decorating the house. Today, children open the boxes on their Advent calendars to count the days until Christmas.

The Yule Log is a tradition that dates back to the 12th century, observed in the rural areas of France. The family goes out into the woods on Christmas Eve to select a tree, which is then cut down. The men carry an enormous log of freshly cut wood called the Yule log (ceppo) into the house. They circle the room three times and the log is placed in the fireplace. A glass of wine along with oil and salt is poured over the log. Prayers are offered and Christmas songs are sung and the log is lit. In some families, the young girls of the house lite the log with splinters from the preceding year, which they had carefully tucked away. In other families, the mother had this privilege. It was said that the cinders of this log could protect the house from lightning and the malevolent powers of the devil. Choices about the variety of wood, the way in which it was lit and the length of time it took to burn constituted a genuine ritual, which could vary from region to region This tradition lasted up to until the last quarter of the 19th century. Its disappearance coincides with that of great hearths, which were gradually replaced by cast-iron stoves. The great log was thus replaced by a smaller one, often embellished with candles and greenery, placed in the center of the table as a Christmas decoration.

Today, the Yule log has become a log shaped cake (Buche de Nol). On Christmas Eve, before the children go to bed, they set out their shoes by the fireplace hoping that Pere Noel will fill them with presents. Pere Noel is accompanied by his helper Pre Fouettard whose duty is to tell Pere Noel how each child has behaved during the past year. In some areas of France Pere Noel distributes children's gifts on St. Nicholas Eve. The adults generally exchange gifts on New Years Day. The manger or crèche is the centerpiece around which most Christmas festivities take place. The crèche is often filled with little clay figures called "little saints." (stantons) In the south of France (Provence) these figures not only represent the traditional Nativity figures but also include replicas of local dignitaries and other local characters. These figures are sold at annual Christmas fairs in Marseille and Aix.