Père Noël: what sets the French Santa Claus apart from the rest?

Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Père Noël…so many names have been given to this famous Christmas figure, but what sets the French Père Noël apart from the Santa Claus of Western pop culture?MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - Père Noël - French Santa - French Santa Claus - French Christmas - hood - outfit

When we think of Santa Claus, we imagine a plump, jolly man with a long white beard, wearing a long red coat with white fluffy trimmings and a red hat.

Although the Père Noël largely resembles this image, there are a few differences that make him French – and no, it’s not because he walks around with a baguette and cigarette in hand, nor does he say “Oh là là” instead of “Ho ho ho”.

Here are a few reasons why the French Santa Claus is different.

Le Père Noël has style

Instead of the goofy red Santa hat with a white pom pom on top, Père Noël prefers to have an inbuilt hood in his cloak trimmed with white fur. This would be much more practical and reduce the risk of losing his hat when flying his sled through the sky! He is also rather trendy and likes to wear his hood up over his head.

Stockings hanging by the fire place…or not

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - Père Noël - French Santa - French Santa Claus - French Christmas - no stockings - shoes by the fireplace

In France, Christmas Eve is the main event rather than Christmas day. This is when the main feast and the opening of presents take place. Traditionally, the Père Noël likes to deliver presents to the well-behaved children after the Christmas Eve Mass.

Children also don’t hang stockings by the fireplace, instead they leave slippers or shoes – and if they’ve been good, they’ll be filled with treats overnight! These days, in some families, presents may also be left under the Christmas tree overnight as a surprise for the children on Christmas morning.


Much like the Santa we know, Père Noël needs to refuel during his busy night delivering gifts. However for French Santa, milk and cookies don’t quite cut it. The idea of a grown man drinking milk is laughable to French adults. So children don’t leave milk and cookies for Père Noël, they are more likely to leave a glass of wine or Calvados.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - Père Noël - French Santa - French Santa Claus - French Christmas - Le Père Fouettard

Le Père Fouettard

On a much darker note, Père Noël doesn’t leave coal for naughty children – but I’m sure the French children would prefer the coal! Le Père Fouettard (the name coming from ‘fouetter’ meaning to whip or lash) follows the Père Noël whipping and beating the badly behaved children. Children behave well over the Christmas season out of fear of Le Père Fouettard.

So there you have it, although French Santa shares many similarities with the Santa we know, there are a few differences that make him uniquely French!

Do you have a different image of Santa? What name do you call Santa? Describe your Santa to us in the comments below!

Image credits:
1. ‘Santa watching’, by Lady DragonflyCC, via flickr.
2. ‘Christmas, Stockings, Hearth, Xmas’, by roseCoutre0 via pixabay.
3. ‘Nikolaus krampus’, via wikipedia.
NOTE: This popular article has been refreshed and republished for Christmas 2021

About the Contributor

Simone Allen

After spending 10 months in France at the age of 15 as an exchange student from Australia, I fell in love with all things French; the language, the food, and the lifestyle. I now live in the South of France and I am an Editorial and Communications Intern at My French Life™.

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