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
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.