Noël, or Christmas Day, is celebrated on December 25 in France, as in most places across the world, and is always a public and bank holiday.
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The dates for the Christmas season tend to vary from region to region with some beginning their festivities as early as December 6. Christmas Day is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in approximately the year 4AD. It is a Christian holiday but many non-believers take time to think about the real meaning of Christmas during the holiday.
In France, most of our towns and villages begin Noël/Christmas Day with a midnight mass at the end of the 24th. This is often followed by le Réveillon, a feast after the service, and is held in homes or in all-night restaurants. Although it is different between regions, the meal usually consists of a bird, perhaps turkey, goose, capon or chicken, which is often stuffed with oysters or chestnuts. Sometimes, salmon as well!. There are many variations of vegetables served, and delicious desserts like la bûche de Noël (the Yule log) – a log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts, and the Treize desserts. On Christmas Day, more food is eaten, often with many courses.
On the days leading up to Christmas, children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts from Père Noël (sometimes known as Papa Noël). The gifts might be confectionary and toys. In homes and businesses, decorations are dominated by the sapin de Noël – the Christmas tree – that have fruit, ribbons and toys hung from them.
And, in remembrance of the meaning of Christmas Day, many homes and churches display a crèche filled with santons – figures from the Nativity like Jesus, Mary and Joseph – and often life-sized.
Christmas in France is a special time of worship, generosity, family reunions and gifts for the poor.