Christmas in France: Regional Customs
Located in southern France, the region of Provence boasts a number of distinctive Christmas customs. The region is well known for its santons, Nativity scene figurines. In Provence santon makers have sold their wares at Christmas fairs since the early nineteenth century. For generations these artisans have trained their children in the traditional techniques for making the clay figurines. A number of Provençal villages sponsor living Nativity scenes and costumed processions of shepherds, angels, kings, and pilgrims on Christmas Eve. These candlelight processions begin about an hour before midnight and wend their way to the local church, where participants pay their respects to the Holy Family and attend Midnight Mass.
Christmas cuisine also varies across France. Families in Provence often serve lobster as a first course for réveillon. Roast pheasant or roast lamb often follow. Bread, cheese, green salad, pâté, and wine round out the meal. Provençal custom suggests that hostesses serve thirteen desserts for réveillon, one for Jesus and each of the twelve apostles. Some combination of fresh, glazed, and dried fruit, marzipan, candies, and cakes are usually served. In the snowy French Alps a simpler réveillon meal may be offered, featuring such sturdy dishes as hot broth with noodles and boiled beef. In Brittany, on France’s northern coast, buckwheat crepes are served with heavy cream.