In France, Christmas is a time for family and for generosity, marked by family reunions, gifts and candy for children, gifts for the poor, Midnight Mass, and le Réveillon.
The celebration of Christmas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, which is a bank holiday. However, in eastern and northern France, the Christmas season begins on 6 December, la fête de Saint Nicolas, and in some provinces la fête des Rois* is one the most important holidays of the Christmas season. In Lyon, 8 December is la Fête de lumières, when Lyonnais pay hommage to the virgin Mary by putting candles in their windows to light up the city.
*Epiphany (la fête des Rois) is usually celebrated the 6th of January, but in some places in France it is celebrated the first Sunday after January 1st.
French Christmas Traditions
French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (aka Papa Noël) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree overnight. In some regions there's also Père Fouettard who gives out spankings to bad children (sort of the equivalent of Santa Claus giving coal to the naughty).
In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response.
Although fewer and fewer French attend la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. It is followed by a huge feast, called le Réveillon (from the verb réveiller, to wake up or revive). Le Réveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth and is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home or in a restaurant or café that is open all night. Each region in France has its own traditional Christmas menu, with dishes like turkey, capon, goose, chicken, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).
Throughout the French Christmas season, there are special traditional desserts:
French Christmas Decorations
The sapin de Noël is the main decoration in homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories. The sapin de Noël appeared in Alsace in the 14th century, decorated with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, and was introduced in France in 1837.
Another important aspect of French Christmas celebrations is the crèche filled with santons, which is displayed in churches and many homes. Living crèches in the form of plays and puppet shows based on the Nativity are commonly performed to teach the important ideas of Christianity and the Christmas celebration.
Mistletoe is hung above the door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune throughout the year.
After Réveillon, it's customary to leave a candle burning in case the Virgin Mary passes by.
French Language, this language is spoken today by a vast Francophone population, the history of the French language begins with the colonisation of Gaul by the Romans.The Celts who inhabited Gaul when the Romans came were Indo-Europeans, related to the Greeks, Romans and Germanic peoples in both culture and language.
French is used as the official language of 22 countries and is the co-official language of several others, including Belgium, Canada, Haiti, Madagascar, and Switzerland. It is spoken as a first language by 51 million people in France and Corsica; in Canada by 7.2 million; in Belgium by 3.3 million; in Switzerland by 1.2 million; in Monaco by 17,000; in Italy by 100,000; and in the United States by nearly 2 million (primarily in Maine and Louisiana).
In sub-Saharan Africa, some 5 million people (in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, and Zaire) use French as their principal international language, as do additional millions in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). In addition, French continues to be spoken as a second language by many people in countries located along the southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean that were once French colonies or territories (notably Algeria. Morocco, and Lebanon).
More about the history....
The prehistory of the French language begins with the colonisation of Gaul by the Romans. The Celts who inhabited Gaul when the Romans came were Indo-Europeans, related to the Greeks, Romans and Germanic peoples in both culture and language.
They appear to have lived originally in central or eastern Europe, but began to move westwards around 500 B.C and settled in Gaul some two hundred years later, displacing the other peoples whom they found there, notably the Iberians, who were driven towards the south-east. By this time there were also important Greek settlements on the Mediterranean coast at such places as Marseilles, Nice and Antibes, which have preserved their Greek names. In the second century B.C these Greek settlers, harassed by the Gauls, asked for Roman campaign in Gaul, a campaign which, spread over thirty years from 154 to 125 B.C,. led to the conquest of what the Romans then called the Provincia or province, a name which survives today as Provence. At first the Roman colony extend from the Alps to the Rhone, to the eastern Pyrenees, taking in what is today Roussillon. In 57 B.C., Julius Caesar undertook the conquest of the rest of Gaul, a process which was virtually complete by 52 B.C., for the Gauls, essentially a loose confederation of tribes, lacked political unity.
In the newly conquered territory, Gauls of any rank who had anything to do with administration and supply soon found that they had an incentive to learn Latin. Moreover, the only kind of education available was the Roman one: indeed, the Gauls could not write at all until they learned the art from the Romans, and this explains why those few monuments of the Gaulish tongue which have come down to us are mostly written in the Roman alphabet. Even so, Romanisation and Latinisation were a very gradual process. The bestowal of Roman citizenship on all free-born inhabitants of the Empire by Caracalla in A.D. 212 probably made no very great difference to the linguistic situation in Gaul, and it would not be unreasonable to suppose that in the second or third century A.D., in areas remote from Roman supply routes, Latin would be seldom heard and even more seldom understood, and Gaulish the normal language used. For this very reason, perhaps, Gaulish eventually lost much of its former prestige, and came to be looked down on as the speech of rustic underlings. Even so, it seems to have lingered on in places until as late as the fifth century; while in the Rhone delta Greek was used as well as Latin in Christian worship until as late as the sixth century.
In Gallo Roman France, a split occurred between north and south, assisted by incursions of Germanic speaking Franks whence the name "France" into the north. Here, too, further dialectalization occurred throughout the Middle Ages, resulting in a multitude of speech forms such as Francien, Picard, Norman, Lorrain, and Walloon. Southern French, or Provençal, split into Languedocien, Auvergnat, and many other dialects. The dialect of Paris gradually became the national language, however, because of the political prestige of the capital and today is accepted as the model for the French language.
French leveled the verb paradigms to such an extent that subject pronouns became mandatory (contrast French je chante, "I sing," with Italian canto); but in general the Latin paradigm has remained intact.
Notable in phonology was the loss of opposition between Latin long and short vowels, the voicing of intervocalic voiceless consonants, and in some languages the loss of syllable- and word-final s. The emergence of accentual patterns led to the reduction or loss of many unstressed vowels in the more heavily accented languages such as Gallo-Roman and Old French, and to the diphthongization of some stressed vowels in most of the Romance languages. Only in French and Portuguese, however, did vowels before a nasal consonant undergo nasalization--compare French main, "hand," with Portuguese mao and Spanish and Italian mano.
However, the history of the French Language is the history of the emergence and standardisation of a particular variety of northern French and its spread to the whole of what is now France, and beyond.