December sees France going festive in a big way. In major towns and cities, Christmas markets spring up in the streets and squares. And many places light up their buildings in glorious technicolor. Then it’s time for a short Christmas holiday (only Dec 25th is a public holiday), before gearing up for New Year’s Eve. Events in December in France are certainly exciting.

More on How the French Celebrate Christmas

And most importantly, what they eat. French Christmas food is a serious matter!

PLEASE NOTE: Many of these events have been cancelled, shortened or rescheduled due to Covid-19. France is now pretty much fully open but events were changed months ago. I have researched as much as I can, and noted any changes.

If there is no note for the event, it is scheduled to go ahead as written and on those dates. Things might change, so please keep clicking on the links to double check.

Train at Calais Christmas market with dressed up actors at night
Calais Christmas Market Great Parade C Fred Collier/Calais

To Dec 3, 2020: (Dates to be confirmed) The Paris Horse Show (Salon du Cheval de Paris) sees around 450 exhibitors and 2,000 horses competing at Paris Nord Villepinte, Paris. Everything the horse enthusiast could want with great competitions plus the Night of the Horse equestrian show and the Arabian Horse World Championships. It’s more lighthearted with the western riding and events like the Cup d’attelage where chariots compete in races and the children’s village.   

To Dec 31, 2020:  The Paris Autumn Arts Festival covers everything, pitching Paris as a cultural capital. From dance to films, theatre to music; it’s all here for the tasting at locations from the Pompidou Centre to the Ménagerie de Verre.

Colmar christmas Market with lit stalls and snowy rooves
Colmar Christmas Market. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

All month: Christmas markets spring up in towns and cities. Some are rightly world famous, such as the one in Strasbourg; others are smaller but just as much fun. In north France make for Arras which fills its glorious main square with stalls, a restaurant and a big wheel that takes you up into the sky. Events in December in France must include a visit to a festive market.

Le Puy en Velay mairie lit up with red white and blue
Le Puy-en-Velay illuminations Luc Olivier

All month: Many towns and cities light up their buildings. Chartres is well known, but don’t miss Le Puy-en-Velay, in the middle of the remote southern Auvergne where the buildings half way up its extraordinary volcanic outcrops look as if they are suspended in the sky. Magical.

Fete des lumieres in lyon with fountain brilliantly lit up
Fête des lumières at Lyon. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

December 5–8, 2020:  Fête des Lumières takes over Lyon, capital of Rhône-Alpes with a light show on buildings that has become world famous. It’s a spectacular show. Mid-December, 2020: (Dates to be confirmed) Chestnut Fair (Fiera di a Castagna) in Bocognano in Celavo, Corsica dates back around 37 years. It’s called the chestnut festival but it includes cheeses, olive oil, honey, wine and more. In fact all the goodies grown and produced in Corsica. And of course, there’s music, crafts and more.
More about food festivals in France throughout the year

epernay Festivities in December with lit up figures in white in the streets
Epernay Festivities. Michel Jolyot

Dec 13-15, 2020: (Dates to be confirmed) Les Habits de Lumière at Épernay in Champagne takes centre stage just in time for Christmas. The city lights up, there’s a big parade, fireworks, exhibitions, music, cellar tours, cookery demonstrations and bubbly tastings, plus a vintage car parade on Sunday. Try some of the smaller houses and make your own discoveries.
If you’re in Reims, consider a visit to one of the great Champagne Houses.
Les Habits de Lumière is cancelled for 2020.

Dec 24-26, 2020: Christmas Eve is the time when French families and friends get together for an almighty feast with oysters, salmon, beef and more. On Christmas Day some families go to church; other people gather in bars in the morning. Many shops are open, but only to noon or 1pm. It’s a quiet day!

New Year’s Eve or Réveillon in Strasbourg. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Dec 31, 2020: Le Reveillon, or New Year’s Eve, is very much a public holiday. So book a restaurant and get merry with the French who certainly know how to enjoy themselves. And stay in a city which celebrates it very publicly.

Events in December in France end the year in style.

Events in France throughout 2020:
Events in April 2020
Events in May 2020
Events in June 2020
Events in July 2020
Events in August 2020
Events in September 2020
Events in October 2020
Events in November 2020

Check out the major Christmas Fairs in France

And for a quick hop across the English Channel, check out the Christmas Fairs in north France