Christmas in France: Preparations
As Christmas day draws near, many people give their homes a thorough cleaning. Silver may be polished and fine china brought out of storage for the sumptuous Christmas Eve feast called RÉVEILLON. Families shop for Christmas trees and flowers to decorate the table. The French put all kinds of flowers to this purpose, including poinsettias, but a special favorite is the Christmas rose. The French also enjoy decorating their homes with mistletoe. Another shopping trip may be made to pick up a new figurine for their Nativity scene, which the French call a crèche, meaning "crib.” Shops and markets throughout France display a wide variety of these engaging, lifelike figures in the weeks preceding Christmas. As a special Christmas treat the family may go to see a Nativity play. All over France local theatrical groups present these plays, which retell French Nativity legends. The French call these pastoral tales pastorales (see also Los Pastores).
Most French families decorate their Christmas trees a few days before Christmas. French Christmas ornaments come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The fish, once a new year’s symbol signifying long life, has become a popular shape for tree ornaments. Although Christmas trees have become popular, the Nativity scene remains the most important Christmas decoration in France. Churches throughout France display Nativity scenes in the weeks before Christmas. French families begin to assemble their Nativity scenes a few days before Christmas. Children especially enjoy this task and may bring home twigs, moss, and rocks to make the setting look more lifelike. Each day the figurines representing the Three Kings move closer to the stable where the Holy Family has taken shelter (see Magi). In past times Yule logs were popular throughout France. Nowadays the Yule log survives in the form of a popular Christmas dessert called a bûche de Noël, or "Christmas log.” Bakers mold this creme-filled cake into the shape of log.