Are you planning a language and cultural stay in France for Christmas? Prepare for a marathon of traditions, culinary and festive experiences to share with family or groups of travelling friends! Although France is a secular country, Christmas remains a public and widely celebrated holiday, topped off with a hearty meal and an exchange of gifts.
Choosing the end of year celebrations to visit France and perfect your learning of the French language is a divine opportunity to soak up the magic of Christmas and enjoy moments of fervour and sharing.
Good reasons to organize a language stay in France at Christmas
1. Experience the magic of Christmas in France
Taking a trip to France during the end of year celebrations give a touch of magic and enchantment to your linguistic and cultural stay. Students and travellers learning the French language, if they choose to set sail at this time of year, can enjoy French culture in its most traditional, hieratic aspects, discovering both religious and lay people, even within local families. They can soak up the marvellous spirit of decorations, animations, in the streets as in the houses, and of the imagination around Santa Claus or his regional variants, whether they are believers or not.
2. Prepare the start of January in the best conditions
It is also a pivotal period in the year of French as a Foreign Language students, after 3 months of theoretical courses. This is a key moment for learners to put into practice all the teachings of the first trimester. A language stay is therefore welcome to test the knowledge, ideally by being hosted by the locals, in immersion with a French host family. It is an opportunity to start again in January with a good linguistic basis and prepare the rest of the year in the best conditions.
Studying and visiting France in the magic of Christmas
The magical atmosphere of illuminated cities
Countries across the Atlantic and Western Europe have this in common: in December, public spaces and homes are adorned with their most beautiful attire to celebrate this special month of Christmas and the New Year. Cities and neighbourhoods compete in beauty with the decorations, light garlands and majestic trees that sit in the main places or in front of town halls. However, the trend in French municipalities is now towards energy saving and ecological decorations… The number of illuminated streets is reduced, LEDs have replaced light bulbs, and the green firs of the forests are transformed into cardboard trees or luminous tubes.
The tradition of tree and red balls
Decorating the Christmas tree at home is an essential moment of sharing within French families, long awaited by the little ones who will have the honour of positioning the star on the tip of the tree. Originally, families hung fruit, especially apples. In the Vosges region, in the middle of the 19th century, a major drought hit the production of apples. To compensate for the absence of this elementary fruit in the Christmas decoration, a glassblower recreated the apples in red glass. In absence of the edible ones, these ornamental apples quickly became a decorative tradition throughout France and beyond.
The tradition of santons: a Provence destination
To celebrate Christmas, some families set the nativity scene, placed near the Christmas tree and made of santons. The tradition appeared in Provence, inspired by an Italian custom. The term comes from the Provencal “santoun” (translated as “little saints”), representing small figurines in local clay, painted and assembled to form the nativity scene.
If you decide to organize your language study trip in the South of France, you will see how much this tradition of santons is still very present in Provence, so that santon fairs are organized throughout the region, the largest being the one from Marseille.
Christmas markets: destination Strasbourg
Spending a cultural stay in the Alsatian region for Christmas is a chance! Strasbourg was designated Capital of Christmas in 1992, a well-deserved title which can be explained by a very old Germanic tradition. The first Christmas market in Strasbourg was held in 1570! Students, learners, and FLE teachers will stroll through the Marché des Délices, the Carré d’Or market or the Irréductibles market, in front of the marvellous stands of the craftsmen, and under the sparkling lights of the Baccarat crystal chandeliers.
An ideal enchanting break to find the small souvenir and handcrafted gift (no tourist trap here!) that will hit the mark once back home.
Finally, the Strasbourg Christmas market is the time to warm up with gastronomic specialties to enjoy on the go. The pretzel kugelhopf, moricettes or mannala abound on the tantalizing stalls. The essential and traditional drink that can be found in all the Christmas markets in France is mulled wine, a suave beverage made from red wine infused with cinnamon, orange and other spices that warm hearts and minds.
The Christmas decoration of stores: destination Paris
Paris offers a unique magical spectacle thanks to the decorations on the windows of the capital’s department stores. Galeries Lafayettes, Samaritaine, BHV and other major brands play the escalation of lights and entertainment to dazzle passers-by. The windows are transformed into a puppet theatre, a cabaret, a fashion show, a magical festival of ingenuity and creativity for the pleasure of all.
For a gastronomic trip to Christmas: very gourmet France
The hearty Christmas Eve meal
Traditionally, the French like to get together during the Christmas holidays around hearty meals, where quality products are honoured. Beware of indigestion for foreign travellers! At the table of French hosts, there will be essentials: foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon and turkey with chestnuts, the winning quartet of the dinners on December 24 (and the days that follow for that matter). If the stomachs are still hungry, we must do justice to the Yule log (lined with vanilla butter cream, surrounded by a chocolate ganache) which ends the Christmas Eve meal, among other chocolates, clementines and candied chestnuts.
Your stay then turns into an exceptional culinary marathon! And the restaurants don’t break with tradition, restyling “in their own way” these great gastronomic end of year classics, enjoying the pleasure of presenting them to visitors from other countries.
Perhaps this focus on regional Christmas gastronomic rituals will help travellers choose the destination for their next stay in France…
Christmas in Provence
If you are spending your end-of-year holidays in Provence, your stay will be punctuated by tasting the 13 Christmas desserts! They personify the 13 members of the Last Supper. The Mediterranean diet satisfies the sweet tooth this time! We find the traditional bread in olive oil flavored with citrus zest called “oil pump”, nuts, dried figs, raisins, dates, quince paste, various candied fruits , white nougat, black nougat (with toasted almonds and caramelized honey), red nougat (with pistachios and rose), oranges, clementines, watermelon and the famous Calissons d’Aix-en -Provence.
Christmas in Alsace
Baking with the family a month in advance is part of the art of living and the unconditional traditions of Alsatian Christmas. We make all kinds of Christolles, Mannele and Bredele, a multitude of cookies, brioches and other sweets illustrating the themes and characters of Christmas and Saint Nicolas. The gingerbread flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom, almonds and honey, also accompanies the snacks in December since the sixteenth century!
Each region and each family has its own specialty and customs. The end of the year celebrations bring joy and fervour, unique and culturally rich experiences for travellers. Language immersion in France at Christmas will be bright and delicious!
However, beyond the borders, it seems that a common tradition of Christmas continues, whatever the cultures and the ages…the ugly sweater! With it, travellers will not feel out of place! Think about it, you will succeed in your integration for sure!