Christmas in France is decidedly uncommercial. To be sure, there are les illuminations de Noël (Christmas lights), shop windows decorated to the tune of the season, garlanding and wreaths, and festive edibles as only the French can do them.

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Holiday lights on the Faubourg St. Honoré in Paris

But holiday decorations in France are understated and tasteful. They also keep to the real calendar season and don’t make an appearance until the beginning of December. Plus (and it’s a big plus in my book), the relentless TV advertising and make-a-buck atmosphere of the holidays in America are nowhere to be found.

If you’ve never visited France or Paris at holiday time, it is a wonderful gift in and of itself. There are far fewer tourists so it’s like experiencing France pour de vrai (for real). The Christmas lights give Paris a special glow. And just like the holidays in the U.S., there is a festive energy that appears at the end of the year.

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Choosing a Christmas tree on the Left Bank in Paris

While I have spent much time in France in December and have celebrated many other important holidays en France, I have not been there on Christmas Day itself. This year, I plan to change that. I will celebrate Noël French style by going to midnight mass and enjoying un grand dîner de réveillon (a gourmet Christmas Eve dinner) in a glorious corner of France. Stay tuned for stories on this one!

In case France in not on your schedule for Christmas this year, here are a few more images and some French holiday words (with approximate pronunciations) to give a taste of the French holidays. Perhaps it might inspire you to give France a whirl at Christmas sometime soon. In the meantime, I send you warm holiday wishes, i.e. Bonnes fêtes!!

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The Christmas market at St. Germain church in Paris Christmas Notre Dame compressed

 The big Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

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French Christmas cookies!

Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) = jwa-yuh no-elle

Le Père Noël (Santa Claus or Father Christmas) = luh pair no-elle

La messe de Noël (Christmas mass) = lah mess duh no-elle

Un sapin de Noël (Christmas tree) = uhn sah-pinh duh no-elle

Une bûche de Noël (Yule log dessert) = oon boosh duh no-elle

Un bonhomme de neige (snowman) = uhn buh nohm duh nehje

Bonne année (Happy New Year) = buh nah-nay