10 things to know about Christmas preparations in France

1. In early November, ‘les grands magasins’ in Paris reveal their magnificent window displays. Every year children and adults stand and stare in amazement at these elaborate window displays with their moving figures and colourful themed settings.

2. The large hypermarkets introduce their displays of Christmas toys, ‘les jouets’ in early November. Each household receives heavy catalogues from all the major hypermarkets in November too.

3. Traditionally though, the majority of preparations for Christmas only begin in early December. This is the time when the local village and town councils put up and switch on the street decorations. The holiday lights are strung across the main road, ‘la grande rue’ and light up the winter evenings until the end of January

4. It’s in early December too that every charcuterie traiteur worth its salt begins to advertise the goodies it will have in stock for ‘les fêtes de fin d’année’. Clients start to reserve the traditional turkey, ‘la dinde’, oysters, ‘les huîtres’, or ‘le foie gras’. Les pâtisseries also start taking orders for the traditional ‘la bûche de Noël’ or Christmas log.

5. Sending Christmas cards is not a French tradition. French people send good wishes for the New Year to friends and business contacts, but this happens in January and the accepted date limit for doing this is the end of that month.

6. Surveys show that for 2014 the average amount the French intend to spend on presents, ‘les cadeaux’ is 235 euros. A little less than in 2013.

7. Apart from toyshops, the busiest shops will be ‘les parfumeries’ for gifts of French perfume and ‘les chocolateries’ where you can select the individual chocolates for a box, ‘un ballotin’ of your preferred size. Don’t be too ‘gourmand’ though! French chocolates are excellent but expensive.

8. When you buy a gift, you can have it gift-wrapped, ‘un paquet cadeau’. This is a service offered by most French shops throughout the year, but in the run-up to the holiday season, many shops will have extra personnel to deal with wrapping goods attractively as presents.

9. Remember that ‘les traiteurs’ and ‘les pâtisseries’ ate open on Christmas morning so you can pick up that special order just before your festive meal.

10. French people often eat their Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, this was on returning from Christmas Mass. Some families now prefer to enjoy a Christmas lunch and some do both!

You can find out more about the French end of year holiday season in Life in France, a Kolibri Languages Practical Guide.

Pam Bourgeois



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