The story of Christmas around the world > 8

French homes often display a crèche or Nativity scene, a tradition that began as early as the 17th century. Some crèches are elaborate, they include not just the Holy Family, Magi and shepherds, but also local dignitaries and characters. Crèches can be bought at shops and at the annual Christmas fairs held throughout December in Marseilles and Aix.

In Southern France, an ancient tradition of burning a log from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day lives on. It is said that farmers then used part of the log to attract a good harvest for the year.

Some people make a traditional log-shaped cake called the bûche de Noël, or Christmas log. The log cake is served alongside many other pastries during Le Réveillon, a late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. This tradition started as a simple meal of biscuits and a hot drink but eventually evolved into a grand feast. The meals vary from region to region but are all equally lavish. It may include goose, turkey, oysters and foie gras, ham, fruit, sweets and wine.

Before bedtime, children leave their shoes by the fireplace and wake to find them filled with gifts from Père Noel.