How French Traditions Work

French Holidays and Holiday Customs

Imagine the dogs days of August. The berries are ripe, the only breeze is near a body of water and you're stuck in your windowless cubicle, collecting data for an utterly meaningless report. "There oughta be a law," you think to yourself.

In France, there is. If you think the French tradition of enjoying life and not obsessing over work is merely lip service, you're incorrect. The government guarantees -- by law -- five weeks paid vacation for all workers. That's one week over the Christmas holiday, and four weeks in the summer to reflect on how lucky you are to live in France.


Schoolchildren receive a week's vacation at the end of October (just imagine the Halloween costumes you could have dreamt up with that time), two weeks in December, two more in February, two in spring and the entire months of July and August. Kind of makes President's Day seem a little sad, doesn't it?

On Christmas Eve, French perform a puppet show (with themes like "The Three Wise Men") for the young ones. A late meal called le reveillon comes in the evening, and the children leave their shoes for Pere Noel to fill with candy.

The children also put their shoes out on the eve of St. Nicholas (mid-December) to receive treats. The story goes that St. Nicholas became the protector of children after saving three disobedient boys from being salted and stored byan evil butcher (Pere Fouettard, or "the whipping father"). So beware: Pere Fouettard follows St. Nicholas on his rounds, dispensing spankings and coal to naughty children.

Come Easter, don't expect giant rabbits wearing berets. In French lore, church bells fly off on Holy Thursday, carrying with them the unhappiness and despair of those mourning the death of Jesus. After making a pit stop at the Vatican, the bells return Sunday morning. French children search the house and garden for the chocolate Easter bells and eggs brought from the journey.

Lucky for those French kids, they get another chocolate-centric holiday on April 1, where they pin paper fish on the backs of unsuspecting adults. The children then shout "Poisson d'Avril!" (April Fish!) and are treated to a small chocolate fish by their target.

While chocolate fish are no doubt delicious, you ain't seen nothing yet. Follow your rumbling stomach to the next section to sample the tasty food culture of France.