The holiday season is upon us! For many Americans that may mean decorations, parties, and of course, shopping. Hopefully you were able to get a bit of that shopping done at our annual Marché de Noël. If you did, we hope you enjoyed your time with us and were inspired to learn more about this fun holiday tradition. If you didn't get the chance, consider joining us next year! In the meantime, here's a little about France's holiday markets and some other seasonal traditions to tide you over.

PLUS, read on to the end of this post for a winter-themed French vocabulary list!

Marché de Noël

Marché de Noël means Christmas Market in French. Each year millions of people visit these holiday markets all across France. The tradition began in central Europe, so the markets near Alsace are regarded by many as the best, including the one in Strasbourg, which is the country's largest and oldest market dating back to 1570. Typically these markets are held outdoors and feature booths upon booths of vendors, beautiful lights and decorations, the scents of vin chaud (mulled wine) and gingerbread, and the sound of carols.

La Fête des Lumières

La Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) is another seasonal event, but unique to the city of Lyon. For four nights each December, buildings, streets, parks, and squares throughout the city are illuminated. This tradition started in the 1850s when the townspeople came together during a particularly difficult time for the city. In the spirit of solidarity, the people of Lyon spontaneously placed lit candles in their windows and on their balconies. The tradition has continued throughout the decades, from shop window competitions in the 1960s, to the illumination of city heritage sites in 1989, and including today’s city-wide artistic illuminated displays.

Le réveillon

Le réveillon is a night-time celebration and feast traditionally held on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in several Francophone countries. The name of this dinner comes from the French word réveiller (to wake), because to partake in the festivities means you'll need to stay awake beyond midnight! These luxurious meals might include oysters, escargots, foie gras, game meats like boar and venison, turkey with chestnuts, bûche de Noël (Yule log), pompe à l’huile (a flavoured bread), and fine wine and champagne.

Les soldes d'hiver

Les soldes d'hiver (winter sales) take place from January through February. The dates of this big retail sales period are regulated by the French government and are only permitted twice a year, once in winter and again in the summer. Only during les soldes are stores legally allowed to sell merchandise at a loss to get rid of old inventory.

The Francophone world celebrates the winter holidays and season in a myriad of ways. I hope this post provided a fun introduction for those of you new to Francophone cultures, or perhaps it brought back memories if you grew up with these traditions. If you're motivated to learn more, check out this list of seasonal French vocabulary words.*

Interested in learning how to use them? Our Winter Classes for adults and children are now enrolling and begin in January.





Jamie Haslett

Director of Marketing

Originally from New Jersey, Jamie graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in International Business and a minor in French. She also completed a semester abroad in Marseille, France. Jamie fell in love with the French language as a child when her sister brought home a high school French book, and looks forward to continuing her education at the French Cultural Center.

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