Although the forces of globalisation, modernity and secularisation are slowly eroding cultural differences and traditions, especially in Europe, some French traditions for kids have managed to survive the onslaught. These traditions are generally linked to what once were major religious holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, that the French still celebrate in a more secular manner. Kids can have all the fun of getting presents from Santa Claus, without having to sit through midnight Mass.
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In France, king cake, or the galette des rois, is eaten during Epiphany, which falls on January 6. King Cake is made of puff pastry with frangipane in the middle. Bakers hide a small figurine, called a "fève," inside. The youngest person present, usually a child, crouches under the table and calls out the names of the guests, who are then served a slice of cake. One lucky guest will bite into their slice and find the figurine. He or she is designated king or queen for the day and gets to wear the paper crown that comes with the king cake.
In France, church bells stop ringing on Good Friday in the run-up to Easter, but return in full force on Easter Sunday. Children believe that the bells are silent because they have flown away to Rome. The ringing of the church bells on Sunday morning signals their return, which is good news for the kids because the bells bring back chocolates and decorated Easter eggs. Children wake up to find chocolates and eggs in their rooms as well as in nests they had set up in their yards.
April Fool's Day
In France, April Fool's Day is also a time to play practical jokes and pranks on your friends. But France has another April Fool's tradition. April 1st is called "Poisson d'Avril," literally "April fish," and that's why a favourite joke among children is to tape a paper fish to a classmate's back. Once the other kid discovers the fish, the prankster calls out "Poisson d'avril!"
Christmas in France is a very festive time of year. In the beginning of December, the lights and decorations come out, and every town in France transforms into a winter wonderland. A favourite activity for kids is to go see the spectacular window displays in department stores. In smaller towns, the Christmas market, selling gifts, delicious snacks and fragrant mulled wine, is the star attraction. The whole family enjoys a veritable feast, featuring oysters and champagne, on Christmas Eve. Père Noël, literally Father Christmas, brings children presents during the night, dropping them in the shoes they have conveniently left by the chimney or under the Christmas tree. Naturally, the kids, eager to open their presents, are the first ones up on Christmas day.
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