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Christmas Eve in France

Many people finish work early on Christmas Eve (Réveillon). Many spend the rest of the afternoon and evening preparing a festive meal and visiting a special church service.

Is Christmas Eve a Public Holiday?

Christmas Eve is not a public holiday. Businesses have normal opening hours.

Christmas Tree in front of Notre Dame Cathedral
Decorative Christmas trees are seen in many parts of France during Christmas Eve.
Decorative Christmas trees are seen in many parts of France during Christmas Eve.
©iStockphoto.com/VFKA

What Do People Do?

Many people work during some part of Christmas Eve but finish work early. They spend the rest of the day with family members or close friends. People traditionally decorate their homes and prepare a celebratory meal. This meal consists of different dishes in different areas of France.

Meals include:

  • Fish, such as pike, carp, or trout, foie gras, roast goose, cookies flavored with aniseed, cinnamon and almonds and cherry soup (Alsace).
  • Crepes (Brittany).
  • Seven meatless dishes (Provence).
  • Thirteen desserts consisting of 13 different types of fresh and dried fruit, nuts and traditional candy to symbolize Jesus and his 12 apostles (Provence).
  • Roast game or fowl served after midnight.
  • A selection of regional cheeses made from cow's, goat's or sheep's milk.
  • Special regional or rare wines.


Many people attend a special evening church service. They return home afterwards, may eat a meat-based meal, and open Christmas presents. Children are told that Pere Noël or the Christ Child brings the presents.

Public Life

Christmas Eve is not a public holiday so many businesses and organizations are open. However, many organizations close early to allow their staff to spend the late afternoon and evening with family members. There may be some congestion on highways and at train stations and airports, as people travel to spend the Christmas period with family members. It is advisable to book tickets for travel on December 24 well in advance. 

Background

Christmas Eve has been an important holiday for French families for hundreds of years. The traditions of eating a large meal with family members, decorating homes with evergreen plants and lighting fires originated before the introduction of Christianity to France.

Symbols

Logs are a symbol of the Christmas and New Year period in France. People traditionally poured wine over a large log and set it on fire on Christmas Eve. The log was then allowed to burn slowly over the next few days. Remnants of the log were saved as good luck charms and burnt the next year on Christmas Eve. Now many people eat a bûche de Noël (a log shaped dessert made of sponge cake or ice cream) on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve to remind them of this tradition.

About Christmas Eve in other countries

Read more about Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2010FriDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2011SatDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2012MonDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2013TueDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2014WedDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2015ThuDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2016SatDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2017SunDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2018MonDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2019TueDec 24Christmas EveObservance
2020ThuDec 24Christmas EveObservance

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