"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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France 
French flag Joyeux Noel
French tree
 
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Christmas has been celebrated for nearly 1500 years in France. French tradition sends a father and his eldest son into the woods to find a Yule log early in Advent. The log is sprinkled with holy water or wine. Then children strike it with a stick in hopes of chasing away evil spirits.

French Christmas trees are decorated with shimmering baubles, frosted bells, exotic birds, tiny angels and replicas of Père Noel the old man whose white beard and red robes recall our Santa Claus. Père Noël is accompanied by a donkey who carries his bag of toys. Bad children, on the other hand, are visited by Père Fouettard (Father Whipper) who carries an armful of switches with which to discipline unruly or disrespectful boys and girls.

Whatever their behavior, hopeful French youngsters place slippers or shoes at the fireplace on Christmas Eve. That evening's special supper called the réveillon features delicacies native to the region, including spun sugar, pâés and pastries. Spun sugar delicacies called sotelties are made to depict miniature castles, Biblical scenes, or exotic birds. Another highlight is bûche de Noël a log shaped cake with chocolate butter cream filling, brown icing and lines that resemble bark. At the stroke of midnight, the sounds of "Oh Holy Night" resound through churches and cathedrals across France.

Children alone receive presents on December 25th. Adults wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts. Some small presents can be found among the branches of the French Christmas tree.

The santons or little saints made in Provence are the heart of French Noël. These simple manger figures resemble real people in detail and dress. No one is excluded all characters good and bad are created to be included in the French manger scene.