Christmas is a very special time for Christians all over the world, but people in various cultures celebrate in various ways. These celebrations can vary considerably in other countries. Christmas in France, for example, is known as Noël and instead of watching for Santa Claus, children wait eagerly for Père Noël.
Instead of hanging stockings on the mantle, children in France leave their shoes by the fireplace for Père Noël to fill with gifts. In some regions of France, naughty children are threatened with a visit from Père Fouettard, who spanks naughty children and is similar to the French equivalent of Santa Claus leaving coal in the stocking.
Also, rather than having a Christmas tree or a Yule log, both of which are not quite as popular in France as elsewhere, the French bake what is known as a La bûche de Noël, or a Christmas Log. This is a log-shaped cake made out of chocolate and chestnuts in honor of the Yule log.
Christmas in France, unlike other places, is generally divided into sections, depending on the region. The actual jour de Noël takes place on the 25th of December; however, in some regions the Christmas season begins on the 6th of December with la fête de Saint Nicolas. On December 8th, the French celebrate la fête de lumières, during which citizens of Lyons put candles in their windows to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary.
One of the most important days of the French Christmas season, besides Christmas day itself, is la fête des Rois, which generally takes place on January 6th. On this day, French families bake la galette des Rois, which is a round cake with a small charm hidden inside it. The cake is given out by a child, le petit roi, and whoever has the piece with the charm inside is the King or Queen for the day.
A very important part of French Christmas celebration occurs on December 24th and is known as Le Réveillon. Le Réveillon is a huge feast following Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It can be celebrated either at home or in a restaurant, but is meant to be an awakening to the true meaning of Christ's birth and a time for spiritual renewal and family.
The one thing about Christmas that does not seem to change between countries and cultures, however, is that it is a time for friends, family and generosity.