European Countries

France Traditions

The survival of ancient customs and traditions in France, which we can divide from the point of view of folklore into three major areas (the North, in the language of Oïl, the South, in the language of Oc, and Brittany, in the Celtic language, to which must be added an archaic ethnic island, the Basque one, straddling the Pyrenees), is now limited to very restricted areas. The early national unification of the country has in fact penalized indigenous manifestations and regional cultures. Alongside the festivals, such as the carnival, now assimilated to all the carnivals in Europe, the great religious celebrations, such as the feast of the dead and Christmas, remain very popular. The most important of the civil holidays is undoubtedly the celebration of July 14th. A brief mention should be made of music, as the folklore in this field is very rich. ballad (narrative song) romance, which then spread to the Iberian Peninsula and Italy (via Piedmont). Some old ballads have been preserved in Canada, among the descendants of the French colonists. Among the religious songs are the noëls (Christmas songs). Dance and dance songs also have a great tradition; the best known dances are: contre danseestampielow danse, bourrée, branle, ronde, cotillon, quadrille, farandole, gigue, lanciers. Particular mention deserves the saint, the dance of the French Basques. Among the musical instruments we can mention the hurdy-gurdy (vièle à roue), still in use; the violin; the épinette des Vosges, a sort of dulcimer; the galoubet, a three-hole flute that is accompanied by the drum (Pyrenean and Mediterranean France) or with the tambourin de Gascogne or de Béarn (also called toun-toun), a six-stringed instrument of the zither family, which is played with a baton (this pair of instruments also exists among the Basques); finally the bagpipes: the cabrette or musette or cornemuse Auvergne, also used with hurdy-gurdy to accompany bourrée; and the Breton biniou, played together with the bombarde (oboe) or also in ensembles formed by binioubombarde and drums (kevrenn or bagadou); the biniou was in regression due to the introduction of the Scottish bagpipe (which is played alone), but now we are witnessing a substantial revival of this instrument at a popular level.

The heritage of fairy tales, proverbs and anecdotes is also noteworthy. Among the various characters, the giant Gargantua, whom Rabelais also chose as the protagonist of his narration, and Little Red Riding Hood, of whose history the French disseminate numerous versions, even very different from that of C. Perrault which has risen to international fame. But the character most loved by the French does not belong to folklore, having historical origin. It is in fact Joan of Arc, the maid of Orleans, the sixteen year old girl whose deeds, largely legendary, are the symbol of the French national independence defended against the English in the bloody Hundred Years War. As for the individual regions, the most vivid traces of indigenous folklore can be found in Brittany, Burgundy and Provence. In fact, the ancient Breton costumes have long since fallen into disuse, but are dusted off on the occasion of the Pardons. These are among the most famous recurrences of Breton culture, and are linked to the custom of granting indulgences (pardons) on the occasion of the patron’s feast. These celebrations include solemn processions, accompanied by traditional songs, banners, relics and images of saints, followed by profane games and dances. The Burgundian folklore is instead closely linked to the rural and wine economy of the area, and therefore essentially consists of the various wine festivals organized by the agricultural brotherhoods of the area. On the evening of Pentecost, the feast known as the Trois glorieuses, of Celtic origin, is celebrated with the simultaneous lighting of fires on the heights of the region, accompanied by various kinds of shows. Provençal folklore is also highly developed, with traditional female costumes still worn in some villages on public holidays. Among the popular demonstrations, the Fête-Dieu in Aix-en-Provence, a procession that brings together the most heterogeneous elements of the sacred and the profane, during which statues and reproductions of crusaders, Jews, nymphs, saints, satyrs, magi, etc. parade alongside each other. Craftsmanship is of a certain importance at a national level, divided into two large sectors, that linked to daily needs and religion (work tools, popular sacred art, ornamental garments) and that which flourished in the grand siècle, for the production of objects of ornamental use for the court and the nobility: perfumes, majolica and porcelain from Sèvres, goldsmithery, furniture (just mention the cabinetmaker A.-Ch. Boulle), tapestry, tapestries (Paris, Arras, Aubusson, Beauvais, Valenciennes, Lilla and, on all the manufactories, the royal one of the Gobelins).

According to, French cuisine is one of the best known and most appreciated in the world and boasts a centuries-old tradition. Already in the Middle Ages there was the custom, inherited from the Gauls, of consuming boiled or roasted game, accompanied by eggs and condiments based on garlic and mustard; but it is in the Renaissance period that French cuisine made the real leap in quality, due in part to the influence of Italian cuisine, which arrived beyond the Alps thanks to some treaties and above all to the work of Caterina de ‘Medici, consort of the sovereign Henry II, who arrived from Italy taking with him the cooks of the Florentine court. In the following centuries the national cuisine was refined more and more; Numerous treatises relating to the art of pastry-making, the preparation of preserves and jams, and the cooking of food were published. In 1826 the famous Physiologie du goût by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin appeared, which attributed literary dignity to the philosophy of the pleasure of the table, combined with the equation between good food and good health. In the twentieth century. the spread of restaurants, the simplification of recipes and the arrival of chefs from beyond the Alps on the international limelight sanctioned the definitive consecration of the cuisine française. More recently, the current of nouvelle cuisine has been highlighted, theorized around the seventies of the last century, whose canons of attention to detail and care in the presentation of food are followed in the most prestigious restaurants around the world. At this point all that remains is to take a quick look at the main enological and gastronomic products of the country. The protagonist of French gastronomy is undoubtedly the bread, sold in the numerous boulangeries in the characteristic shape of the baguette. Also typical are the cheeses, made from goat, sheep or cow milk and produced in hundreds of varieties.

Among the most famous are the Roquefort, made with sheep’s milk, Camembert and Brie, among the soft cheeses, and, among the hard cheeses, made with cow’s milk, Beaufort and Mimolette. As for cured meats, they can be pork, beef, veal, chicken, rabbit and goose. Typical products of the various areas include sausages, cooked and raw, pork but also chicken, veal (boudin blanc), or pig’s blood (boudin noir); but above all the pates. Among the various very famous qualities are the pâté de foie gras, obtained from the liver of ducks and geese specially fattened. The French cuisine also includes numerous regional specialties which enjoy international fame. These include fish dishes, both freshwater and, above all, seafood (the bouillabaissesoup, oysters, moules, and the numerous seafood typical of the Breton and Norman areas, lobsters, sea urchins, shrimps, scallops etc.); savory pies; roasts (boeuf bourguignoncoq-au-vin), entrecôtes; the snails of Burgundy; the omelettes; the numerous dishes based on potatoes, onions, mushrooms and other cruditées. As for the desserts, in the numerous pâtisseries the tarte-au-pommes, the famous croissants and pains-au-chocolat are available, even if the national desserts are certainly the crêpes, both in the traditional beurre-sucre version and in the numerous appetizing variations. As for the oenological heritage, the prestigious national wines AOC (appellation d’igine contrôlée) are produced mainly in the Bordeaux region, renowned for the homonymous full-bodied red wine but also for the white of Sauternes, a prestigious dessert wine; of Languedoc; of the Loire Valley (where the most common grapes are Muscadet, Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc). Very renowned wines are also produced in Alsace (mainly white), and in Burgundy, where wine production dates back to the era of the Cluniac monks and includes white wines (Chardonnay) and red wines (including the many varieties of Beaujolais). The Champagne region is also famous for the production of the homonymous sparkling wine, conducted according to the method devised in the seventeenth century by Dom Pérignon. Among the other alcoholic beverages consumed beyond the Alps, beer (bière), whose most renowned productions are located in Alsace and in the department of the North (bière brunebière blanche); cider (cidre), apple liqueur of Breton origin; The pastis, aniseed-flavored liqueur popular especially in the south; brandies from the regions of Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados.

France Traditions