Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

How Christmas in Paris Differs From the US

by Brenna Daldorph Dec 7, 2015
1. Parisian Christmas trees are downright dinky.

It makes sense — most Parisian apartments are pretty dinky, too. But these trees look like little munchkins.

2. Rather bewilderingly, Parisians (and the French in general) adore having outdoor fairs in dead winter.

Up goes the big sparkly Ferris wheel at Place de Concorde and the fête foraine at Bastille. It brings you into a whole new sensory realm to have icy air zipping past your ears as you get flung upside down.

3. In Paris, all the action happens on Christmas Eve.

Unlike in the US, Christmas morning is like a non-holiday here. People are just busy sleeping off champagne-and-foie-gras hangovers.

4. Parisian cafés get REALLY excited about holiday window paint.
5. There are Ferrero Rocher candies here, there, and everywhere.

I mean, we have them in the US, but not THAT many. It’s like a gold foil infestation. Pyramids upon pyramids.

6. There is a lot of gold. Everywhere.

Green and red are not as omnipresent in Paris as they are in the US.

7. Christmas trees bought in Paris all come with handy, dandy wooden stands.

Unlike in the US, where you have to get the whole family to try and stuff the tree into the little metal holder.

8. As far as decorating trends go, sparkly branches are in.
9. This is not the season to be vegan.

Let’s face it, it is never really easy to be vegan in France. Parisians are very attached to Christmas feasts of oysters, foie gras (and, no François Hollande does not do a “duck pardoning” like his American counterpart at Thanksgiving) and “Christmas logs” (bûches de Noël), which are basically just cream filling.

10. If you go to HEMA on a Saturday in December, you might not make it out alive.

I guess this is comparable to the December madness in the aisles of Target. But you can usually walk down the aisles, whereas the minute proportions of most Paris stores make passing people impossible. I gave up looking for candles because I didn’t want to have to climb over four people.

11. The Parisian holidays are very white and Christian.

Granted, I haven’t yet met a Parisian who celebrates Kwanzaa, but Paris is incredibly multicultural. Sadly, I’ve noticed that the city doesn’t really make an effort to be inclusive and / or multicultural during the winter holiday season. Most bookstores don’t have a section of children’s books on Diwali, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah for example. Not many brown Santas, either.

12. Christmas is much more adult-centered in France than child-centered like in the US.

I guess that could be an observation on France in general. It really is a much more adult-centered society. But the first time I celebrated Christmas in France, I was surprised to see the little guys packed off to bed quickly so we could really stick into the champagne.

13. Lychees are THE fruit of the season (especially if you have any connection to La Réunion).

In the US, oranges are the fruit of choice. But a lot of Parisian and French families pair ripe lychees with the Christmas season.

14. Monoprix is always great. But this is the season when they outdo themselves.
15. This is when the City of Lights truly becomes the City of Lights.

Christmas lights galore!

16. Even in Paris, tacky Christmas lights happen, i.e., the Champs Élysées.

That said, this year is the first time in a few that the lights are really not that bad — there is a fairyland twinkle about them whereas the last few years were like failed discos. But what do you expect from a giant, outdoor mall?

17. The grands magasins are evil in more ways than one.

The mechanical holiday window displays at the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps mark the début to the season for many Parisians. In my opinion, the characters look possessed.

If that isn’t enough to scare you away, the sidewalks outside the grands magasins are basically the definition of ‘clusterf*ck’.

18. The Christmas markets in Paris are basically all the same.

My first year here, I enthusiastically decided to do them all. Until I realized that they were all identical. There’s the pungent cheese stand, the gingerbread folks from Alsace, lots of crêpes and mulled wine, the nougat stand, and usually some Russian dolls. And a lot of tourists.

19. Elves and reindeer are not widely used Christmas symbols in Paris.

When you start really thinking about it, there are very few examples of these festive creatures in the City of Lights. 

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