The end of Allsaints Day nowadays gives the signal to all the shops and supermarkets to start displaying all the Christmas « festive equipment », ie. toys, foodstuffs, giftware, and clothing ( usually sparkling, silky, velvety, black …yet the Chinese tourists will find red dresses too).
It will remind everyone the Holidays shopping » frenzy » has started.
The holidays are a moment of abundance shared with friends and family. It’s the main revenue peak of the year in retailing ( +30% to 300% depending on the product) , like the end of Ramadan or the Chinese New Year.
The main features in a French Christmas are ( I am describing here the average French habits, excluding regional customs such as Provence Christmas ):
– the Christmas tree ( a pine tree, true or fake) , which will be decorated by the family sometime in December , by Christmas eve. It’s pretty fun to unpack the decorations from the previous year and hang them in a artsy way. It’s a creative moment to be shared in family.
– the Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally shared in family. The favourite « luxury » foodstuffs during the holidays festival are for instance :
– French SouthWest foie gras ( fat gooseliver or fat duckliver) with bread
– Seafood such as Atlantic Coast fresh oysters, lobsters, gambas, crabs .
– Desserts will be the Christmas log ( rollcake, mousse cake, or ice cream).
The beverages will be some (French) wines, and of course Champagne which can be drunken throughout the whole meal, from appetizers to desserts .
Some will attend the Midnight Mass at the church after dinner.
-On Christmas Day, the children will open their gifts, displayed by the parents and relatives during the night. If they were wise and quiet during the year, they will get good gifts from Father Xmas, otherwise they wont receive anything or maybe a whip from the « Whip Father » ( Black Peter).
Christmas luncheon traditionally features the famous turkey (cooked with chesnuts) but many families tend to skip this rather stuffy dish for something lighter. Nowadays, anything is okay if refined and savoury.
No Boxing Day on Dec.26th in France. It’s a normal working day for us. The Winter sale month will only start later in January.
The following celebration takes place on Dec.31st, the Night of Saint Sylvester, as we call New Year’s Eve. It’s the occasion to celebrate the New year with friends, rather than family relatives. The dinner will feature the same festive foodstuffs. It’s the perfect occasion to catch up with smoked salmon if you had foie gras on Christmas, for instance !
When the bell rings midnight, it’s the custom to hug or kiss each other . Some people even hang some mistletoe somewhere so people may kiss or hug each other under the misletoe , it’s a Celtic tradition.
The last celebration which ends the festive period is Epiphany ( the Three kings visiting Jesus). The tradition is to eat the « pie of kings », (called Galette of Kings) , a crusty pastry stuffed with a kind of almond cream ( called frangipane, its ingredients are almonds powder, butter, eggs, sugar ). Inside, there is a ceramic lucky charm ( called feve) hidden by the pastry chef. The guest who finds it in his share becomes the King. All the galettes are sold with a crown made in golden paper. The king or queen may chose a partner king or queen amongst the other guests who shared the galette.
The galette of Kings has become a real business, all the pastry shops trying to design the best galette with the most elegant lucky charms. Some people love to collect them. Almond powder being expensive, some galettes are stuffed with apple marmalade or chocolate paste. Some pastry houses such as Poilâne stuff the galettes with hazelnut cream ( delicious!)
It’s also possible to bake galettes at home , since you can buy the fresh « flaky crust dough » everywhere ( the galette crust is quite tedious to make, it is similar to the croissant crust dough but without yeast).
Because it’s fun, it’s quite common to see galettes parties at the office throughout all January. Some companies organize Christmas parties ( luncheons or dinners) around mid December. The bigger employee’s committees distribute gifts/ vouchers or even sponsor a family day for the employee’s families ( a circus show, or a day at some theme park).
Early January is generally quite gloomy, it’s the post-bubble hangover moment. Christmas trees are dismantled, Christmas decorations go back the storage room till the next holidays…Everyone is back to the daily chores. School holidays, which start around Dec.20th generally end on Jan.5th.