Christmas in France: Christmas Eve
Many French families serve a light snack at dinner time on Christmas Eve. This tides the family over until the more formal meal, which they call réveillon, meaning "awakening.” This meal will not take place until the middle of the night. Family members pass the evening together singing Christmas carols and telling Christmas stories. In addition, the women of the household may spend many hours in the kitchen preparing the Christmas Eve feast. Children place their shoes near the fireplace, underneath the Christmas tree, or near the Nativity scene. In the middle of the night the magical Père Noël will come and fill them with sweets and toys. Late in the evening someone, often the youngest child, completes the Nativity scene by placing the baby Jesus figurine into the manger. As midnight approaches small children are tucked into bed and the rest of the family prepares to go to Midnight Mass.
After returning from church French families finally sit down to their Christmas Eve banquet. This meal may consist of up to fifteen courses. After passing several hours dining together the family settles down to watch the children open Christmas presents. Families with small children may wait until Christmas morning to open presents, however. As a rule, only children receive presents on Christmas. Adults exchange gifts with one another on New Year’s Day.