Paris is often referred to as the City of Lights and never is this name more fitting than during the festive season. As soon as the weather starts to turn colder around the middle of November, Paris is decked out for Christmas and soon shimmers in a sea of pretty lights.
The streets of the French capital are lit beautifully, adorned with strings of colourful fairy lights, glistening flames and sparkling projections. From the Eiffel Tower to the Place de la Concorde through to Notre-Dame – all of the main tourist attractions are illuminated with garlands, brightly coloured baubles and twinkling trees visible on every street corner. Festive decorations brighten up the facades of the Parisian department stores, whilst window displays are brought to life, to the delight of passers-by both young and old. There are Christmas markets at every turn, offering a tempting array of food and drinks as well as Christmas decorations, hand-made products and stocking fillers.
Inspired by these magical surroundings, the children of Paris, and indeed all around the country, write their letters to Santa Claus, or ‘Père Noël’ as he is known in France. Traditionally, a Christmas tree is put up in each home and decorated, with children then placing their shoes underneath the tree on Christmas Eve, hoping to awake the next morning to find them filled with presents and sweets from Père Noël.Despite the commercial side of the holiday season, Christmas remains a Christian festival. Nativity scenes are set up in all of the city’s churches and the birth of Jesus is celebrated with midnight mass services, prayers, organ concerts and carol services on the 24 of December. Christmas is also a time for sharing in France, with toys and gifts being collected and people being invited to eat together.
In Paris, and across the rest of France, Christmas is celebrated as a family with good food and fine French wine, either after mass on Christmas Eve or on the 25 of December (a public holiday in France). Oysters, foie gras and stuffed turkey are staples of a French Christmas dinner, followed by a Yule log (‘la bûche de Noël’) for dessert, all washed down with a glass of champagne – the drink of choice for any kind of celebration. ‘La bûche de Noël’ – a Swiss roll filled with chocolate or coffee-flavoured cream – is the type of cake usually eaten at this time of year in France. This tradition can be traced back to the 12th century, although today’s cake replaces the large sacred log that would once have actually been lit in the fireplace. This log was believed to bring families, parents, friends and neighbours warmth, light and protection on Christmas Eve.
We too celebrate Christmas here at MANN+HUMMEL in Courbevoie on the outskirts of Paris. Every year, we put up a little Christmas tree in the canteen and decorate it – this year we’ll be using baubles in the yellow and green MANN-FILTER colours. Our works council also arranges a tombola and hands out presents to employees’ children under the age of 14.
Plus, since we are all such foodies and connoisseurs, I am sure we will be indulging in some delicious cakes, chocolates and sweets together.