Like most countries around the world France has its own Christmas traditions that are based on the history of the nation and have been influenced by the European countries surrounding it. Religious figures take a lead role in many areas of the country with decorations often based on the historical figures said to attend the birth of Jesus.
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Christmas trees can be found in public areas of towns and cities throughout France and in some homes, but are not in widespread use throughout the country. Instead, the majority of French homes base their Christmas celebrations around large nativity scenes that contain many figures, according to the History of Christmas. As Christmas, or Noel approaches brightly coloured figures called santons are sold at local markets depicting religious figures and animals from the bible's description of the nativity. Other figures are also available, including local and national figures and traditional members of public life in France, such as the police and shopkeepers.
Areas of France and central Europe have a long standing tradition of burning a piece of wood or log from Christmas Eve through to New Years Day. The log takes up a prominent role in the decorating of homes for the Christmas period, Why Christmas reports. A Cherry wood log is placed in the fireplace of French homes and doused in wine before it is lit on Christmas Eve to form the centrepiece of the Christmas festivities, Time and Date reports. In earlier periods of history the log would later be used to make the plough for planting new crops.
Food forms a large part of the French Christmas traditions and also plays a part in decorating a home for the holiday period. The Yule log, or buche de Noel is often used as a Christmas decoration in the buildup to Christmas and the Christmas Eve meal of le Reveillon; the Yule log made of sponge or ice cream is a representation of the log burned throughout the Christmas period. Following the Christmas meal the leftover food remains on the table as an offering to the Virgin Mary and Jesus who visit homes throughout the country on Christmas Eve.
Unlike children in the UK, French children receive gifts in a pair of shoes left by the fireplace instead of in stockings; children can leave the shoes they often wear or in decorative wooden clogs designed like traditional French shoes. The gift giving figure seen on many decorations is usually seen as St. Nicholas, but in some regions presents are brought on Christmas Eve by Mary and Jesus, known as le petite Jesus, he History of Christmas reports. Shoes are placed beside the fireplace for decoration on Christmas Eve.
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