Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Christmas Season in France-with New & Old Traditions

Celebrating new Traditions in France
Place Pey Berland & the Cathedral Saint Andre
I am writing this particular post as part of the Multicultural Kids Blog - Christmas in Different lands Series - but I'm also excited to share with everyone how we celebrate the holiday season in France.

This will be our 4th Christmas that we have spent in France and our first in a new home and also the first where the girls will split their time between myself and their father.  Due to this new family circumstance, I am extremely aware of the traditions we have as a family and how to blend our cultures together, yet at the same time maintain continuity for my girls.  I know when I look back on my Christmas memories - I have some fond ones and some traditions that have also shared with my girls.
Prior to moving to France, our holidays were what I would consider "very American" with a few French touches-  house decorated inside and out, beautiful tall tree all decked out in memorable ornaments and tinsel.  We would celebrate the holiday either with my parents and/or friends - having both a large Christmas Eve dinner (French style) and then a nice Christmas day dinner (American). The girls would all get up on Christmas morning, toddle downstairs and be in awe of what Santa had delivered.  Similar to how I grew up, we opened stockings first and then have a light breakfast and open the rest of the presents.  We often went to a church throughout the advent season (although missing Christmas eve - often due to the early time of the service and our French Christmas Eve dinner).  Other traditions which we enjoyed in the US were afternoon tree trimming, cookie making, enjoying a performance of the Nutcracker, enjoying a Victorian street walk in our town along with a breakfast with Santa at the Festival of Trees.  There was often snow on the ground - very Norman Rockwell.  Giving the feel of a quintessential American Christmas.  

Holiday dinners
Fast forward to Christmas in France - similar but different.  Due to a packing snafu when we moved here - none of our beloved Christmas ornaments & decorations moved with us.  That left me with the task of starting over with ornaments on the tree.  It also meant that our house would not have the same familiar feel or memories that the decorations each year brought us.  But  my creative side took over and for that first year, the girls and I painted and decorated white balls to put up on our tree. Although they missed their beloved ornaments (collections that were started from birth), they marveled in the fact that they got to decorate and create new ones.  Each year for the past few years, we have added additional ornaments to this new collection and it has created new memories for us. Our tree has become more "French" and as we have learned by looking at other people's trees - they are pretty simply decorated here - gold, silver, red or green balls tend to be the norm.  The trees are also smaller (due to space issues) here.  Houses are also not decorated on the outside.
Place de la Comedie - Bordeaux
So what are our new traditions here in France?  First off - one of the things I notice in France is the lights!  The city of Bordeaux and every quarter and town all have lights up and down the streets. There are also decorated often with lit up trees in town squares.  It's stunning and so beautiful - often mesmerizing and really gives that Christmas feel.  One can walk downtown any night and just take in the beauty of the lights.  We have often taken a late afternoon/evening to go walk around the center of Bordeaux.  It's just looks so different during the holidays.  In certain town centers - Christmas music can also be heard from the public loud speakers, again putting everyone in the holiday mood.
Cours Intendance - Bordeaux
In addition to the city lights - Bordeaux, like many other European cities, has a Christmas market.  It's set up right in the city center on Allee Tourny, adjacent to the Place de la Comedie.  The market is open each day during the whole month of December.  Again, it's just so fun to go walk around, browse at the artisan gifts and other seasonal items.  A unique place to find great Christmas gifts.  After one walks around the Christmas market - it's also fun to just window shop in Bordeaux.  The stores here still keep the tradition of decorating their storefront windows with beautiful holiday decor and special displays.  This whole experience is very European to me.  
The girls at Place de la Comedie
Another fun tradition here in Bordeaux is ice skating.  Yes, you read that correctly - we have an outdoor ice skating rink that sets up next to Cathedral Saint Andre.  This is a great family fun outing.  The weather may not be the coldest here and we don't have snow - but there is just something about ice skating at the holidays! We often make it down to the rink 3 or 4 times.  This year - my oldest will be heading there herself with friends to enjoy some teenage time together.  It's especially pretty at after dark as the town is lit up all around you.

Advent Candlelight Holy Communion Service
We also celebrate Advent here.  As I've said in a previous post - I am a pretty spiritual person and although I don't attend church weekly - there are certain times of the year that it provides that extra spiritual balance.  The Advent season is one of them.  Our Anglican Church in Bordeaux does a couple very special services - the first being The Candlelit Advent Holy Communion Service and the second the Advent Carol Service.  Both services are a time to reflect on the holidays being a time for giving - not just receiving.  In previous years, we have attended these services and it's worked out nicely this year, that the 2 services fall on the weekends that the girls are with me.  We attended the Communion service the other night and it filled us up with Christmas spirit.  It was a beautiful way to start the holiday season.  I have been impressed with my girls that when asked if they wanted to attend, they all said yes- of course. For them going to church is just one part of their holiday traditions.
The yummy chocolate Advent Calenders
Advent calendars are really big here in France.  They range from the simple chocolate Advent calenders counting down to the 25th to more elaborate bags or boxes holding little goodies each day.  I grew up with a wooden Advent tree where we would hang an ornament on each day as we counted down to Christmas - so I was thrilled to see these calenders here.  At this point, I have chosen to just keep it simple and the girls enjoy their little pieces of chocolate each night.

Next week  we will be trimming our tree.  This year, I have been lucky enough to be connected with someone who has field full of trees.  So for something new, the girls and I will be headed 45 minutes from here to pick out our tree and cut it down.  I'm looking forward to this experience and the fun of choosing the tree together.  We will then come home and decorate it together - as we have always done.
Christmas morning

One of the "American" traditions that we did bring with us was "Elf on the Shelf".  Now this didn't exist when I was little, but started a few back in many households in the States.  We started ours when we moved to France.  If you are not familiar with the concept - it's a little felt elf that visits your house for the month of December.  He comes with a book that explains that he reports back to Santa each night and can not be touched or he will lose his magic.  The idea is to move him around different parts of the house and he can even get into a bit of mischief now and again.  Yes, I definitely am the parent who wakes up panicked at 4 am realizing that I forgot to move the elf!!  But to watch my youngest each morning come downstairs and look around to find "Lolly" our elf is magical.  It's also been fun to enlist the help of her older sisters, who assist in "Lolly"'s adventures.

Our town also hosts a series of events the weekend before Christmas including music, choirs, and a mixture of family activities.  Last year's theme was winter activities and they has fun simulations of snowboarding and sledding for kids to try.  There were also old-fashion childrens' games and a tent with chocolate covered fruit or marshmallows to sample.  The chocolate came from a wonderful fountain!  We have gone to these activities each year - so they have become a part of our new traditions here.
Fun town activities in Pessac
Old Fashion Wooden Children's Games
Holiday traditions are important to me and living in France has been about creating new ones, yet blending some American ones in also. Hopefully ones that when my children look back on their childhood, they will be full of fond memories and fun times.  
Chocolate fountain
Snow-boarding practice!
Yes, this Christmas marks the first time their father and I will not be celebrating together and they will have to split their time between two households.  Even though, this will be different for all of us, it's another opportunity to create something new.  Since Christmas Eve dinner is the more traditional holiday dinner in France - they will be spending that day with him and his family.  They will return to my home late in the evening, so they will wake up on Christmas morning and be able to come downstairs and see what Santa has brought.  (That hasn't changed - no matter which country we live in - and even though - I have 2 older girls who play along for their youngest sister - it's still the magic of Christmas that they love!!)
My mother, myself and my girls - last Christmas
The fun Santa hat....
The girls and I will enjoy Christmas Day dinner together with my mother who will be visiting from the States.  Christmas for us also just doesn't end on that day - it's also about spending the vacation together.  Enjoying special time with each other and the relaxing nature of time off.  

I hope this post gives you an idea of how the holidays are celebrated in France - we may not be the typical family as we include some American aspects along with taking part in many of the French traditions.  
Ice Skating at Place Pey Berland
I wish everyone a very happy December and if you follow my blog on a regular basis - I will be sharing more about our December activities and other aspects of French life here.  Please feel free to subscribe via email, if you have not already done so.

Look for other posts from different lands through the following link and on each day in December & explore the world and it's cultures during the holidays:

Yes, I do miss the snow here in Bordeaux - but we can still pretend!!  Happy Holidays!


  1. I can see some resemblances with my British/Aussie Christmas in France and I agree that France does Christmas lights very well! Lovely photos of you and your girls.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Love hearing how other expats celebrate and I'm always fascinated by different cultures. It's interesting to see what is similar and different between cultures and families. Happy Holiday season to you and your family!

  2. From the lights to the music and activities for the kids, it looks as though Bordeaux really makes an effort to make December merry. Really enjoyed this post and your pics!

    1. Thank you for commenting. Always nice to hear from readers. Yes, I've been very impressed with how Bordeaux celebrates the holiday season. I can never get enough of the lights in the city center - really festive!! Happy holidays to you and hope you come back and comment again.

  3. I love this. Christmas is Europe is definitely special and it is so much fun to blend traditions. The markets and yes the ice skating rink (which opens very soon right around the corner from our house) are my favorite of the holiday season. Merry Christmas to you and your girls.

    1. Wow - an ice skating rink just around the corner! If that was us, I know a few girls who would be there day & night!! Must be fun to live right in the middle of it all!! Thanks for commenting - always nice to hear from you! Happy Holidays to you and your family!!

  4. Christmas in rural France is so different to the Christmas I'm used to in London. The villages are big on lights though, it's the one decoration along with a tree that everywhere seems to do. Many villages also seem to have their own Christmas markets but they're a bit hit and miss as to whether they're well attended or not. Last year we headed down to Toulouse for the Christmas market and we may try a couple of nearby small towns such as Montauban or Albi to see what they have to offer. We can't wait to get to London though where I'm sure we'll be hit with Christmas as soon as we step off the plane! Have a good Christmas!

    1. I agree Christmas markets can be hit or miss. The one in Bordeaux is really nice - lots of variety of artisans and products - along with food vendors. (Vin Chaud for 3 euros!). They also have Santa Claus, trees and a couple kid rides. A little something for everyone. Would love to hear how Toulouse was...and how you find the smaller ones. Enjoy London!! One of my favorite cities - (lived in Canterbury for a year of University) and we would constantly hop the train to got to know the city well. Enjoy and Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

  5. Hi Jennifer..Did I miss something..have you and your husband split up? I am sorry to read this. Your Christmas is very similar to how Canada celebrates. Love the animated snow picture!

  6. It looks absolutely lovely there! And it sounds like you and your girls have come up with a really wonderful balance between old and new traditions!

  7. So jealous! One of these days I dream of spending a fall in Germany until after Christmas. I wish the schools in Europe paid as much as he made here and then my hubby could take off a whole year. Wishing you and your family a fantastic holiday season. Merry Christmas!


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