In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the
French phrase les bonnes nouvelles," which means "the
good news" and refers to the gospel. In southern France,
some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve
until New Year's Day. This stems from an ancient
tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to
ensure good luck for the next year's harvest.
Italians call Chrismas Il Natale, meaning "the
Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the
fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. In the
morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and
small toys have been hung on the tree.
Nearly every French home at Christmastime displays a
Nativity scene or creche, which serves as the focus for
the Christmas celebration. The creche is often peopled
with little clay figures called santons or "little
saints." In addition to the usual Holy Family,
shepherds, and Magi, the craftsmen also produce figures
in the form of local dignitaries and characters. The
craftsmanship involved in creating the gaily colored
santons is quite astounding and the molds have been
passed from generation to generation since the
seventeenth century. Throughout December the figures are
sold at annual Christmas fairs in Marseille and Aix.
The Christmas tree has never been particularly popular
in France, and though the use of the Yule log has faded,
the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake
called the buche de Nol, which means "Christmas Log."
The cake, among other food in great abundance is served
at the grand feast of the season, which is called le
reveillon. Le reveillon is a very late supper held after
midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The menu for the meal
varies according to regional culinary tradition. In
Alsace, goose is the main course, in Burgundy it is
turkey with chestnuts, and the Parisians feast upon
oysters and pat de foie gras. Le Revellion may consist
of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine.
In Southern France, a log is burned in people's homes
from Christmas Eve until New Years Day. A long time ago,
part of the log was used to make the wedge for the
plough as good luck for the coming harvest.
French families used to have a Three Kings Cake with a
bean hidden in it. Whoever found the bean in their slice
was made King, or Queen, for the day. In France
the children go out to look for the Kings, taking gifts
of hay for the camels.
Another name for this day is Twelfth Day. It is the last
of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which used to be one
long holiday. It was the last night of the Feast of
Fools before the Lord of Misrule had to give up his
crown and become themselves once again.
In France it is a time for the whole family to come
together at Christmas time to holiday and worship. On
the eve of Christmas beautifully lit churches and
cathedrals, ring out Christmas carols with the church
Once dinner is over and the family have retired to bed,
they leave a fire burning and food and drink on the
table in case the Virgin Mary calls in. Children leave
their shoes or wooden clogs called sabots in the hearth
for the Christ Child or Pere Noel to fill. In the north
of France, children are given gifts on December 6, which
is St. Nicholas' Day, instead of Christmas Day. The
adults give each others presents on New Year's Day.
French children set out their shoes in hopes that le
petit jesus will fill them during the night with small