12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: French Catholics attend midnight mass, leave wine, snacks in preparation for Père Noël’s visit

(Photo used by permission of Richard Day)
French teacher Richard Day stands behind his cousin and his cousin’s daughters in 2014.

Cultures around the world have special ways of celebrating the holiday season. In the “12 Days of Christmas” series, sophomores Jack Christian and Allison Zhang will interview students and teachers on their international Christmas experiences. Check back tomorrow to hear about Christmas in England from sophomore Chloé Collinwood.

Imagine a skinny Santa Claus who wears wooden shoes and says, “tralala tralala bouli bouli boulah.”

For the French, Père Noël is exactly that – a skinny man with a white beard and red robes.

French teacher Richard Day lived for two years in Brittany, one in Bordeaux and two to three in Paris.

Traditionally, because France is a Catholic country, people would go to la messe de minuit (midnight mass) and then have le reveillon (a big dinner).

“It was a big, fancy meal,” Day said.

“There would be turkey with chestnuts or goose or seafood – something big.”

Day’s family would have le reveillon, open gifts and then go to midnight mass.

“We would have a big meal at 7 or 8 o’clock, and then my brothers and sisters and I would play different musical instruments,” he said.

“We would play and sing Christmas songs together.”

Each region of France celebrates Christmas slightly differently, Day said. His family is from Alsace, a region in eastern France near Germany.

“In Alsace (there are) Christmas markets,” he said.

“All of the major cities, and some of the smaller ones, have these markets with Christmas figurines and various types of candy, cookies and pastries.”

In France, Santa Claus doesn’t ride a sleigh with reindeer but instead has a donkey, Day said.

And there, Père Noël isn’t given milk and cookies.

“Children will leave a little snack or some wine for Santa Claus, and sometimes they will leave a little something for the donkey as well,” he said.

The time that holiday greeting cards are sent also differs between the U.S. and France.

According to Tinyprints.com, holiday greeting cards “should reach their recipients approximately mid-December.”

But in France, it’s typical for these cards to arrive by the end of January.

“My father never got used to that,” Day said.

“He was American and would send my French family cards early. And every year they would respond late, so he would get very nervous.”

By Allison Zhang

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