A perfect Christmas: how to deal with Australian customs and French tradition

French version

This article has been published exclusively by the  Courrier Australien and the Alliance Française de Melbourne.

Have you decided to swap an Australian Christmas for Noël in France? In front of the brightly lit Champs-Elysées, listening to the Notre-Dame church bells? Great! But keep in mind Christmas traditions in France are a bit different from those Down Under, with many differences around songs, food, and presents. Valentine Sabouraud explains.

Christmas carols

In Australia, people have enthusiastically embraced the carols by candlelight tradition. Families gather and sing Christmas carols outdoors while holding candles, and some people also use the occasion to raise money for charity. Along with the classics, you’ll also hear lively and distinctive songs such as White Wine in the Sun, Aussie Jingle Bells, or Christmas Photo. In France, people sing in church and rarely sing outside. At home, people tend to opt for popular songs such as Tino Rossi’s Petit Papa Noël (Little Father Christmas) or the French version of Jingle Bells, Vive le Vent. If we are feeling very festive, we might break into a song thanking Jesus for our stomachs full of food and drink. “J'ai bien mangé, j'ai bien bu, j'ai la peau du ventre bien tendue, merci petit Jésus.” This very popular song is only sung after a meal with plenty to drink!

Christmas decorations

In Australia, you can buy pine trees and decorate them with fairy lights, which are also used to decorate house exteriors. Sometimes neighbours will spy on each other to see who has the best lights display. A more local option is a native plant called Christmas bush, whose lovely cream-coloured buds turn into little red flowers just in time for Christmas. In France, we also decorate pine trees, whose triangular shape represents the Holy Trinity. People originally hung apples on the branches, but these have been replaced with baubles. At the top of the tree we place a star. We also use holly to decorate since its thorns are reminiscent of Christ’s crown of thorns, while the berries represent his blood.


In Australia, we still serve traditional English dishes such as turkey, ham, and pudding with brandy, but people also fire up the barbie and make the most of what is in season. Seafood is clearly the winner at Christmas, especially prawns of all sizes. Cherries and mango are also firm favourites, and people have Christmas Day lunch. In France, we usually eat a turkey stuffed with chestnuts and a Yule log (sometimes frozen). But there are also many regional traditions. In Provence, for instance, we have the “13 desserts of Christmas” which includes dried fruits, nougat, andpompe à l’huile d’olive (sweet olive oil bread). Christmas is usually celebrated twice, at night on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.


Christmas presents

In Australia and other Anglo-Saxon countries, people hang stockings on Christmas Eve so Santa Claus can fill them with presents at night. Some people think this tradition is about keeping sock retailers in business. In France, we place shoes underneath the Christmas tree so they can be filled with presents. Santa Claus comes down the chimney in the middle of the night and we sometimes leave him a glass of milk for sustenance. In France and Australia you can send Santa a letter through the post. He might even send you a reply, which is a service the post office provides.

Santa Claus’ outfit changes depending on which side of the world you’re on. In Australia, he wears shorts, sunnies, and rides a surfboard. In France, he is dressed warmly and rides a sleigh pulled by reindeers.

Get into the Christmas spirit at the Alliance Française Christmas market

You sure can! To celebrate the much anticipated arrival of Christmas, Eildon Mansion is opening its doors for a festive weekend. This tradition is already in its 14th year. “In the beginning we wanted to create an Open day event” deputy director Françoise Libotte explains. The weekend is now unmissable celebrating French traditions. There are 45 French stands, including arts and crafts, cheese, macarons and books. “There will also be a lot of activities for kids, such as fishing, balloon twisting, and a FIMO polymer clay workshop,” Françoise says. Snacks will be available and there may even be carols. There will be a photo booth to capture the fun and the chance to have your photo taken with Santa, if he decides to make an appearance…

December 9 and 10, from 10am to 5pm. Free entry.
51 Grey St, St Kilda VIC 3182.
For more information or to volunteer, please click here.
You can read this article in French here.

French Xmas Market

Written by Valentine Sabouraud.
Translated from French by Jacqueline Le and Léa Pérez, students in the Master of Interpreting and Translation Studies at Monash University.