It’s that time of year again. Christmas is just around the corner and it’s time to break out those decorations, send out those cards and plan those Christmas celebrations! If your Christmas planning this year involves looking for a great destination for a family Christmas break there are so many great options, but when it comes to large families nothing beats a fairytale French chateau or charming rural French farmhouse.
In France, Christmas is a magical and memorable time when people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with family gatherings, gifts and candy for children, Midnight Mass, and le Réveillon. In eastern and northern France the festive season begins on 6 December with la fête de Saint Nicolas. In Lyon, the real Christmas atmosphere can be felt from the 8th of December, when the city is lit up with candles in windows as residents celebrate the Virgin Mary during la Fête de lumières.
In the weeks before Christmas you’ll find towns transformed by twinkling fairy lights, nativity scenes, Christmas trees and colourful decorations. The air is filled with the scent of spiced biscuits and fir trees, and you can warm yourself up with a mug of mulled wine.
Magical French Markets
Christmas markets in France are legendary. Most of the larger towns have day or night Christmas markets where you can buy a wide variety of arts and crafts, food and Christmas goodies. In the town of Carcassonne in Aude the night market is set up in the main square around an ice-rink. In Strasbourg the bustling Christmas markets are centered around the city’s impressive Gothic cathedral. In the charming Riviera town of Menton there is a 15 day Christmas Festival with lively markets and nativity scenes. The Christmas market in Lille, in northern France, is open daily from 19 November to 30 December. 83 beautifully decorated chalets surround a Ferris wheel in the main square. Paris also has several enticing markets during the festive season, where you can do all your Christmas shopping.
Wooden chalets are decked out with twinkling lights, people spend hours ice-skating and browsing the markets that burst to life, and town squares are transformed into winter wonderlands. The atmosphere is magical and the experience is something you won’t quickly forget. Nobody does Christmas markets quite like the French.
Midnight Mass and Le Réveillon
An important part of Christmas for many French families is la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve. The Mass is followed by a late meal called le Réveillon. Restaurants and cafes stay open all night and offer a feast with dishes like lobster, oysters, foie gras, goose, chicken and stuffed turkey, all served with a variety of wines and champagne. Traditionally young children go to bed early. They don’t use Christmas stockings, instead they put their shoes by the fireside for a gift from Père Noël.
Things to do on a Christmas Holiday in France
The northeast region of Alsace is where you’ll find beautiful towns like Strasbourg and Colmar. Shop ‘til you drop at the Strasbourg Christmas markets, visit the Alsace Museum or go ice-skating at the Place du Chateau.
If you’re in Paris, take a stroll down the famous Champs-Elysees at night. The street leading to the Arc de Triomphe is adorned with twinkling lights that make for a fantastic photograph.
If your holiday rental is near Aix-en-Provence, you can buy delicious local produce at the Olive Oil and Truffle Fair.
The rolling French countryside is filled with charming medieval hilltop towns and historic chateaux to visit, while the snow-covered mountains provide plenty of opportunity for skiing while staying in a French villa or farmhouse.
It’s not hard to see why France is an ideal destination for large family Christmas holidays. Christmas holidays in France are a great way to experience another culture while creating wonderful memories for the whole family.