The Christmas holidays are very popular in France, as there are numerous public holiday days in December during which the French are in holiday but still get paid by their employers as if it were a regular working day (25th of December, 26th of December and 1st of January). Most French people tend to spend these holidays with their families. On Christmas day, most people give each other presents under their Christmas trees, which isn’t just a French tradition, as it can be found in most European and North American countries. However, some traditions are specific to France, and can even be celebrated only in specific parts of the country. For example, in Provence (southern France), most people eat a selection of thirteen desserts on Christmas day; it is said that if you eat a piece of all thirteen desserts (mostly dried fruits, nuts and pastries), all your wishes will come true in the coming year.
Plus, it is common for the French to celebrate the Epiphany (the arrival of the Three Kings to the shed in which Jesus was born) by eating what is called a “Galette des Rois” (King’s Tart), an almond tart filled with frangipane. It is customary to hide a bean in the tart, and the person that finds the bean in his or her piece of tart will then be crowned as the “King.”
On New Year’s Eve, however, French habits don’t differ from the rest of the world’s. It is customary to spend New Year’s Eve with friends, generally in big cities, and to party all night.
by Marin E.
France being a country with a strong Christian tradition, most French holidays have religious origins and purposes. Therefore, important religious celebrations mark vacation periods, which occur every seven weeks on average and all last 2 weeks (except summer break).
Students thus benefit from 17 weeks of vacation, divided into 5 periods each associated with a holiday:
« Toussaint » (« All saints »), at the end of October, during which people celebrate all the saints.
Christmas vacation, at the end of December. Christmas involves many traditions, such as the Christmas tree, midnight mass, the exchange of presents, Santa Claus… People usually visit their families and share long, elaborate meals. It is an occasion to spend time conversing with with others, and to prepare for the New Year celebration: it is customary to make a new meal, like the Christmas one, and to dance until midnight, before swapping wishes.
February vacation, which does not have any religious association, is the first break of the calendar year. People relax, and some families go skiing in the mountains.
Easter vacation, during which people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Church bells do not ring for three days, marking the death of Jesus. During this time, children look for chocolate eggs hidden by « the Easter bells ».
Summer vacation, which lasts for two months for students. Some students are sent to summer camps before spending the break with their parents or friends. Summer vacation is the longest vacation of the year, and originated at the beginning of the 20th century: children used to help their parents during the three-month summer harvest.
We also observe 10 holidays during the year: the 1st of January, the International Day of Working (or Labor Day) on May 1st, Christmas… Certain holidays commemorate major events that happened during wars: May 8th, the end of WW2; November 11th for WW1; and Bastille Day on July 14th celebrating the French Revolution of 1789. France observes additional religious holidays such as the Monday of Easter, Pentecost, the Assumption on August 15th, celebrating the Virgin Mary.
All these authentic holidays and traditions enable France to commemorate and celebrate its past. Nevertheless, as diversity becomes increasingly important in France, and given that the French state is laic, it is possible that religious customs will one day no longer be associated with official public holidays.
by Bastien S.