Oh, to be in France at Christmastime. The food, the music, the traditions; everything is magical this time of year. Of course, one could say the same thing about Christmas in the U.S. But while it's true that, in many ways, my own holiday celebration will look very similar to those of my French counterparts, there are still some fascinating differences. Differences that tempt me to one day forgo the merry trip home and instead take a trip across the sea.
My Christmas à la française would start with an early-December flight. While the season in the U.S. is limited to the 24th and 25th, French celebrations start on the 6th with Saint Nicholas Day. As the patron saint of children - among others - he'll leave presents for good little boys and girls, but mostly only in the eastern party of the country (Alsace, Lorraine) where the tradition of Saint Nicolas continues. From there I'd have to stay in France for a month to truly experience a French Christmas, as the fun doesn't end with the birth of baby Jesus. French families also celebrate the Fête des Rois (Epiphany) on Janurary 6th. They'll eat a cake known as the Galette des Rois and whomever finds the little fève (bean) that's been baked into the cake gets to wear a crown and be king for a day. Which brings me to another aspect of Christmas in France: desserts. In addition to the Galette des Rois, the French will eat a traditional Bûche de Noël (Yule Log) for Christmas. No Christmas cookies here. Instead, yummy cakes are the traditional dessert du jour.
Next, I would head over to Strasbourg for some serious shopping at the largest Christmas market in France. While sipping mulled wine and eating lots of pastries I'd join the thousands who flock every year to the unoffical Christmas Capital of the World to admire the decked-out city and stock up on Christmas decorations. Lastly, a lot of the Christmas songs in France would sound strangely familiar, as both countries put many of the same tunes to different words, and there would still be a Santa Claus - Père Noël, as he's known in France - but, in what should come as no surprise, the French version is considerably skinnier than the one we know and love in the States.
As much as I'm looking forward to going home for the holidays, writing about all of France's Christmas traditions is making me feel a bit of regret that my plane won't be flying in the other direction. It gives me something to shoot for, at least. A destination Christmas? It's the perfect gift for any traveler on Santa's list.