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Friday, December 2, 2011

Père Noël and Chris✞mas in France

Joyeux Noel; from a c. 1910 postcard.

I lived in Orléans, France for almost 13 years, until I was14. Growing up  in France with their traditions, mingled with those of my German mother and American father who has a traditional Ukrainian background we observed many different holiday traditions. Today, I'll share Chris✞mas in la belle France!

In France, Chris✞mas 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 Chris✞mas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Chris✞mas on the 25th of December, which is a bank holiday. However, in eastern and northern France, the Chris✞mas 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 Chris✞mas season. In Lyon, 8 December is la Fête de lumières, when Lyonnais pay hommage to the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows to light up the city.

*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.

French Chris✞mas Traditions

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.

Le Réveillon

Although fewer and fewer French attend la Messe de Minuit on Chris✞mas Eve, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. It is followed by a huge feast, called le Réveillon (from the verb réveiller, to wake up or to revive). Le Réveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth and is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or café that is open all night. Each region in France has its own traditional Chris✞mas menu, with dishes like goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, oysters, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).

French Chris✞mas Desserts

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 Chris✞mas Eve to New Year's Day in the Périgord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration.
  • Le pain calendeau (in southern France) - Chris✞mas loaf, part of which is traditionally given to a poor person.
  • Treize desserts (in Provence) - nothing like going a little overboard during the holidays.
  • 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.

French Chris✞mas Decorations

The sapin de Noël (tree)is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories. The sapin de Noël appeared in Alsace in the 14th century, decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was introduced in France in 1837.

Another important aspect of French Chris✞mas celebrations is the crèche filled with santons, which is displayed in churches and many homes. Living crèches in the form of plays and puppet shows based on the Nativity are commonly performed to teach the important ideas of Christianity and the Chris✞mas celebration.

Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Chris✞mas season to bring good fortune throughout the year.

After Réveillon, it's customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by. (http://french.about.com/cs/culture/a/christmas.htm)

Leaving you with two Chris✞mas songs that I remember from my youth:
Petit Papa Noel
Petit Papa Noël
1. C'est la belle nuit de Noël
La neige étend son manteau blanc
Et les yeux levés vers le ciel
À genoux, les petits enfants
Avant de fermer les paupières
Font une dernière prière.

Petit Papa Noël
Quand tu descendras du ciel
Avec tes jouets par milliers
N'oublie pas mon petit soulier

2. Mais avant de partir,
Il faudra bien te couvrir
Dehors, tu vas avoir si froid
C'est un peu à cause de moi.

Il me tarde tant que le jour se lève
Pour voir si tu m'as apporté
Tous les beaux joujoux
Que je vois en rêve
Et que je t'ai commandés

3. Le marchand de sable est passé
Les enfants vont faire dodo
Et tu vas pouvoir commencer
Avec ta hotte sur le dos
Au son des cloches des églises
Ta distribution de surprises

4. Et quand tu seras sur ton beau nuage
Viens d'abord sur notre maison
Je n'ai pas été tous les jours très sage
Mais j'en t'en demande le pardon

Little Father Christmas

It's a beautiful Christmas night
Snow spreads its white coat
And eyes lift toward the sky
On their knees, small children
Before closing their eyelids
Say one last request
Little Father Christmas
When you come down from the sky
With toys by the thousands
Don't forget my little shoe
But before leaving
You must cover yourself well
Outside you will be so cold
It's a little because of me
I can't wait for it to get light
To see if you have brought me
All the lovely toys that I see in dreams
And that I ordered from you
Little Father Christmas
When you come down from the sky
With toys by the thousands
Don't forget my little shoe
And when you are on your beautiful cloud
Come first to our house
I wasn't always very well behaved
But I ask for your forgiveness
Little Father Christmas
When you come down from the sky
With toys by the thousands
Don't forget my little shoe
Little Father Christmas

Il est ne le petit enfant
Il est né le divin enfant is a traditional French Chris✞mas carol. The tune is not, as far as I know, the same as any song in English, so here is the melody.

Note that my translation is literal, so it doesn't necessarily match the rhythm.

Il est né le divin enfant,
Jouez hautbois, résonnez musette.
Il est né le divin enfant,
Chantons tous son avènement.
Depuis plus de quatre mille ans
Nous le promettaient les prophètes,
Depuis plus de quatre mille ans
Nous attendions cet heureux temps.
Une étable est son logement,
Un peu de paille est sa couchette,
Une étable est son logement,
Pour un dieu quel abaissement.
O Jésus, ô roi tout puissant,
Tout petit enfant que vous êtes,
O Jésus, ô roi tout puissant,
Régnez sur nous entièrement.

          He is born the divine child,
          Play oboe, resonate musette.
          He is born the divine child,
          Let's all sing his accession.
          For more than four thousand years
          We've promised by the prophets,
          For more than four thousand years
          We've been waiting for this happy time.
          A stable is his lodging,
          A bit of hay is his little bed,
          A stable is his lodging,
          For a god such a humble thing.
          O Jesus, o all powerful king,
          Such a little child you are,
          O Jesus, o all powerful god,
          Rule completely over us.

Je vous souhaite un Joyeux Nöel et bonne année!


Jessa Irene said...

Wow how amazing this post is! Love the photo, the history and traditions, and the songs! Beautiful post.

Priscilla said...

Lovely post. I like how in America we are free to mingle so many traditions just as we mingle our ethnic backgrounds. I remember my mother telling how she and my uncles put out their shoes to receive treats at Christmas. My mother was French (Normandy).

Violetas Rendadas said...

Marlis, linda postagem, gostei das músicas, especialmente a de "nasceu o pequeno Divino". já compartilhei em meu facebook e também irei colocar em meu blog. Obrigada e bom fim de semana, amiga!

Taunnie said...

I tokk years of French back in my school days. You've brought back so many happy memories for me, thank you!

Jacqueline said...

How wonderful to hear about French traditions. What fun for you to have from France, Ukraine, Germany and America! We are certainly a melting pot aren't we. Marvelous.

Debbie said...

I really love to learn about the celebration in other countries and cultures. I guess it's the old teacher in me or something. This was interesting!

I've always wanted to attempt a buche de Noel, but generally I just to easier things. What with those ten thumbs of mine and all...

The French Hutch said...

Marlis, this is so interesting to hear how you grew up with your family traditions. Jim and I enjoyed spending time in France before Christmas and felt a part of the culture. It was amazing, a wonderful time for us. Thanks your for these wonderful posts of Christmas traditions.

The French Hutch

Kuby said...

This is such a beautiful post! I remember singing Divine infant in French class in the seventh grade. I loved reading about the French traditions. Thank you for a wonderful post and I wish you a joyous Advent season.


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