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Christmas in France

France

Paris in Christmas means twinkling lights (at the Eiffel Tower and fancy stores), fun window displays, stylish trees, ice-skating, and tasty treats (chestnuts, oysters, and Yule log cakes). In Burgundy, carols ring out at church and a family preps a special dinner.

Complete Video Script

Paris is nicknamed Europe's City of Light for its incandescent energy and effervescent culture. In the dark of winter, the city's best-loved icon, the Eiffel Tower, brilliantly heralds this happy season…

By night, Paris' biggest department stores dress up the streets. Printemps is pretty in pink — and the Galeries Lafayette has woven an exquisite embroidery of lights.

There's ice skating at the Hotel D'Ville.

And all along the Champs-Elysees, it's a festive forest of 2,000 twinkling trees…

By day, the signs of Christmas are more subtle but can be found everywhere. The best-dressed trees are seen here in the Pompidou Center. Where else but in Paris will you find avant garde Christmas trees…making a fashion statement.

With visions of Versace dancing in their heads, inspired fashionistas can bundle up their wish lists and head to the designer boutiques on the rue Royal.

Parisians buy fewer Christmas gifts than their American counterparts – it’s more a matter of quality than quantity — and they favor small specialty shops like these.

Christmas in Paris is elegantly understated — and the city yields unexpected moments. Turn a corner and you just might find yourself in a stylish arcade all wrapped up in red…

Busy Parisian shoppers fuel up on the city's street food…steamy crepes and hot roasted chestnuts…

Chestnut man: Joyeux Noel!

And neighborhood brasseries are full of friends slurping fresh oysters rushed in from the Brittany coast. Oysters are favorites at Christmas — which makes perfect sense as they're plump and delicious this time of year.

'Tis also the season of elegant edibles. Foie gras — a pate made from goose liver and a smidge of cognac — is especially popular during holidays. And chocolate shops and patisseries — wonderful any time of year — get even better at Christmas.

There are chocolate chestnuts, yummy Yule logs, and delights fit for a King.

This patisserie — the oldest in Paris — was opened in 1730 by an ex-pastry chef of the Royal court.

Even sophisticated Paris rolls out the magic carpet for children. French families from all over the country rendezvous at the windows of the grand department stories. Displays are specially designed to enchant the little ones. And stools provided by thoughtful stores make sure that even the tiniest tot enjoys a good view.

During Christmas the Eiffel Tower becomes the highest ice skating rink in Paris, kids ride ponies at Luxembourg Gardens, and the city's magical Maneges de Noels — the carousels of Christmas — spin memories.

A clear, cold day brings out Parisians, trying to soak up as much sunlight as possible on these, the shortest days of the year. While a dusting of snow brings out hopes for a white Christmas like at home. Whether you're young — or just young at heart, Christmas in Paris is the stuff of dreams.

If Paris is a gorgeous grand-dame strutting her Christmas finery, then Burgundy — where we're heading next — is her pious country cousin…

Burgundy lies in the quiet, religious heart of this mostly secular nation. France's most venerable abbeys are here and their spirit seems to animate the small villages throughout the region.

Ancient traditions survive comfortably here. This 13th century abbey resonates with the rich sounds of the French group Phonema, singing medieval carols just as they were sung centuries ago.

(Phonema singing.)

A sense of community runs strong in rural France and it expresses itself in simple rituals shared by families and friends.

These old friends come here each winter to cut and gather wood for their fireplaces and stoves. It's the kind of hard work that builds an appetite. Fortunately, they've brought drinks to cut the chill… With just enough red wine for the duck…there's bacon to sizzle…and potatoes to roast… Ahhh…c'est bon! A winter picnic in the woods is as good for the soul as it is for the stomach.

In Burgundy, no one goes without. Communities take good care of one another year 'round…with special treats at Christmas. This amiable village mayor, accompanied by her entourage, gets into the spirit of things by delivering baskets of delicacies to the elderly for the Christmas Eve feast.

This morning my friends, the Berteloots, are shopping for seasonal fare at the Saturday market. Fine food's at the center of life in Burgundy, even in the dead of winter. Right about now the truffles are at their pungent best…Delphine and Emmanuel prepare for the grandest culinary event of the year. The French call their Christmas Eve feast, "le reveillon de Noel!"

At home the family's busy preparing for the big event. The children are decorating candles to set on the windowsill on Christmas Eve to light up the dark on that night so filled with anticipation…

And the tree's not quite done until capped with a star.

In the kitchen, Delphine slices her foie gras. Then devotes herself to the centerpiece of the reveillon: filet of beef wrapped in brioche. Stretching the pastry is a two-person job. After generously grating local truffles…the beef is tenderly wrapped…and ready for the oven!

And there's still the serious business of selecting the perfect wine from the cellar…

Soon guests will be arriving. This time of year, when the days are short and nights are long, it's customary to leave a welcoming light in the window…