France has celebrated Christmas since A.D.496. This was when the bishop, St. Rémi, first baptized Clovis I (c ) who was king of the Franks, along with 3000 of his army at Rheimson on December 25th. The Christmas season lasts one month, beginning on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) to Epiphany (January 6).
In France it is a time for the whole family to come together at Christmas time to holiday and worship. On the eve of Christmas beautifully lit churches and cathedrals, ring out Christmas carols with the church bells.
Arranging the Nativity scene is a popular custom associated with the French Christmas season. During Christmas, nearly every home in the country displays a Nativity scene which is the center of Christmas celebrations for families. Little clay figures called "santons" or "little saints" are placed in the crèche.
The cake, among other food in great abundance is served at the grand feast of the season, which is called le réveillon. Le réveillon is a very late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Le réveillon may consist of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine.
The Christmas tree has never been particularly popular in France, and though the use of the Yule log has faded, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the bûche de Noël, which means "Christmas Log ".
Once dinner is over family members retire to bed but not before laying food and drinks on the table and leaving a fire burning. This is believed to be in honour of Virgin Mary who is supposed to visit homes during Christmastime.
On Christmas Eve, children put out in the hearth their shoes or wooden clogs called sabots to be filled with gifts from Père Noël, the French equivalent of the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus. Le Père Noël is said to travel with his stern disciplinarian companion Pre Fouettard who reminds him how each child has behaved during the past year.
A popular Christmas song for French children is Petit Papa Noel. Children write letters to Père Noël in the hope of getting presents from him. Their wishes are fulfilled when they wake up in the morning to find not only their gifts but also sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys hanging somewhere closely. Adults generally wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts.