In this newsletter #4, we wanted to tell you more about Xmas here in France and to talk a little bit about how to spend Christmas away from home as an expat.
In the world, Christmas is mainly known as an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian religion. It’s observed primarily on 25thDecember as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world.
However, if many cultures celebrate Christmas, there are various ways of celebrating it.
In France, here is what Xmas is like…
I. Dear French Christmas…
Santa Klaus in France is called ‘Père Noël’ (the literal translation would be ‘Father Christmas’).
Like in any places celebrating Christmas, the French Father Christmas wears a red suit and hat with white fur trimming with a broad black belt around his waist. He is tall and large, with ruddy cheeks and nose, bushy eyebrows, a white beard and moustache. His big brown sack is packed full of toys that will be delivered to every household at midnight, using his sleigh pulled by reindeers. He is a myth for young toddlers and children who believe he exists for real until a certain age.
Funny fact: Children are often told that they will have presents provided that they are wise.
Thanks for your beauty…
- The French markets are among the most beautiful and largest in Europe. They are mostly in Eastern France with the oldest one taking place in the pretty city of Strasbourg.
- Colmar and Mulhouse’s Christmas markets are also highly recommended and are wonderful places to immerse yourself in the French Christmas spirit.
- Every town is decorated with Christmas (often light) decorations.
- In churches and in some believers’ house, you can also find the Crèche which is a small reproduction of the Jesus’ birth scenery made of miniatures.
Thanks for your warmth…
- Although every culture feasts during the Christmas period, French people go all out when it comes to Noël and the shelves and stalls of supermarkets and markets are stocked with festive fare.
- Foie gras, oysters, snails, frogs legs, truffles or scallops all appear in preparation of the French Réveillon. The idea is to eat differently than the rest of the year and to splash out on luxury ingredients. Yum!
Thanks for the fact that you bring the family together…
- Of course, there is a commercial side to Christmas in France (people are buying presents for their friends and family) but the celebrations are above all a time to get together. Families will often travel far to visit relatives from both sides of France. Gathering is usually really important for French people.
- Christmas is the time of the year everyone uses to buy presents for their family and sometimes even friends.
THANK YOU SOOO MUCH FOR YOUR « BÛCHE DE NOEL »
- During the period running up to Christmas, the front windows of bakeries and pastery shop turn into beautiful displays of glistening cakes and colorful pastries. The centre of attention however are the ‘bûches de Noël’ made of every type of chocolate or with fruit and cream.
- These decadent cakes consist of a light sponge coated in chocolate or cream which is then rolled to make a log. Then, it is iced with more chocolate or cream and decorated to look like a log. It’s the usual dessert during the Réveillon.
To conclude, not every town in France will have a Christmas market, but you can be sure that they will all have some form of festive decoration, whether it’s a big Christmas tree on the main square, a life-size Crèche or lights illuminating the streets. People also take great care in decorating the outside of their homes, ready to host family and friends, the Père Noël… In two words: the Christmas spirit!
…All of this shows how important Christmas is in our country!
II. Expat life: spending Christmas away from home
Did you ever spend Christmas away from your home? We all are more likely to spend Christmas abroad once in our lives. What is Xmas like in your country? How is it to spend this time away?
Some students from various countries in the world agreed to answer a few questions about their experiences: some already spent Christmas far from their family in a foreign country and some are about to do it.
How is Christmas like in their home countries? How was their experience or what do they plan for their first time away for Christmas? What advice would those who went away for Christmas could give you to spend a good time?
Here are some accounts to give you an insight of what it’s like to be away from home and family for Christmas according various nationalities.
Marco from Mexico:
- Where you were when you passed Christmas out of your country for first time? In London.
- What do you do during Christmas in your home country (what does it represent for your culture)? Typically it’s a season where you get together with the entire family. Mexico is a big country, sometimes it’s complicated to see each other, then during Christmas people travel to spend a couple of days altogether. In the morning of the 24th, we go to the house of a member of the family to prepare the food and have lunch together. During the night, we go to the church and go back to dinner around midnight. Sometimes you exchange gifts and after that we dance, sing or play board games.
- How was your experience of being abroad during Christmas? It was not that bad. However, in London stores close around 7 p.m. and there is no public transportation, so I had to stay in the hotel eating the special menu. The good thing is that they also had a live concert and Netflix can turn into your best friend in those days.
- How did you feel about the idea of being away of your home/family during this season? You start to feel homesick when you see that most of your friends go back with their families. Sometimes we take for granted the time we have with our families, but at the same time this experience helps you to appreciate them more.
- What are you going to do during Christmas while you are in Bordeaux? I’ll have lunch with international students from my class. Everyone is going to prepare something and during the night, we’ll look for a place to have dinner together.
- What does Christmas represent for French people in your point of view? It’s seems it has the same meaning as in Mexico— a time to spend with your beloved ones.
- What advice would you give to a student that will spend Christmas away from his home/family? There is always a person with whom you can spend this time. Be open, call your family to tell them how much you love them and overall enjoy this experience.
Yuchen Lin from China
It is my first time away from China!
- How is Xmas in your country? Actually, we don’t celebrate Xmas in China because we are not religion believers. However, some merchants will organize some Xmas activities to sell their goods. Xmas is not an important festival in my culture.
- How do you feel not spending Xmas in your country? I feel really happy because it’s a chance for me to get closed to your culture and I also believe it’ll be a fantastic period of travelling time.
- What are your plans for Xmas in France? Nothing special ahah! I’ll have a bit of travelling: I’ll go to Strasbourg, Colmar, Luxembourg, Brussels, Hague and Amsterdam!
Abhishek from India:
I am going to spend Christmas away this year.
- What is Xmas like in India? Lightings everywhere! India is a very diverse country so many parties, festivals, cultures, religions to celebrate. In some places you’ll see Santa Klaus and kids around. Christians are celebrating on the 25th: many greetings and celebrating a little bit. It is quite similar as here but in India it is really commercial. There people want to sell their stuff, whereas in France in much closer to your heart. That makes it special and important here, it’s more a family thing.
- How do you feel not spending Xmas there then? I miss the Festival of Lights, the festive feeling, doing shopping, meeting friends and family, going out just to see the lightings. As it is not a family celebration, it is not a major problem being away from family.
- What are you going to do for Xmas? I am going to celebrate Xmas at a French friend’s house with her family. My brother is here too, so I won’t be alone. I definitely want to go to the marché de Noël before Xmas.
Julia from Spain
I once spent Christmas in Philadelphia, USA.
- What does Xmas represent in Spain and how does it occur? It’s very good! Spanish Xmas is a family festival: with a family diner on the 24th, a lunch on the 25th, and even other celebrations on the 31stand in January (6th is the day you receive presents).
- How did you feel being away for Christmas? It wasn’t easy to be away as my family is very important for me and Xmas is the occasion for gathering everyone. But my host family made it easier and it’s good to know a different culture and the different ways of celebrating Xmas there.
- What would you advise to people spending Xmas away from their home? Try to make it the best! Try to hang out with people from that country because they’ll show you what is a real Xmas in the foreign country. It is always good to meet new people and not to spend Xmas alone.
So, are you ready to meet a new culture for Christmas now? 😉
Merry Christmas everyone!!!
We’ll see you in two weeks for the next newsletter 😉 !