What Happens in France in January: Events, Festivals & Key Dates



What Happens in France in January: Events, Festivals & Key Dates

January can be seen as a little bit of an anti-climax after all the festivities associated with the previous month. However, there is still plenty to do in January in France – here’s our round-up of the key dates, events and festivals.

New Year’s Day – January 1st

New Year’s Day is an official national holiday in France – a little chance to recover after the New Year’s Eve celebrations. We spend the day with friends.

Fête des Rois – January 6th

Early January sees France celebrate La fête des Rois, or epiphany, with friends, family, and neighbours getting together to enjoy a galette or brioche des rois. Being a traditionally Catholic country, this marks the day that the Three Kings visited baby Jesus.

These celebration cakes are available in shops and bakeries from late December and throughout January, and are traditionally filled with frangipane. We always buy ours from our local boulangerie, but we have also noticed supermarkets doing apple, chocolate, or jam-filled versions of the Galette des rois.

In the South, the brioche des rois is more common, but you’ll find both cakes available. This consists of a lovely, light “couronne” (ring) of brioche bejewelled with dried fruits and sugared citrus peel, which makes the perfect end to a family meal.

Inside each crown lies a fêve – a little porcelain charm which is baked into the cake. Whoever finds the fêve is designated the king or queen and wears the cardboard crown provided. Our children love this tradition.

Les Soldes or winter sales – mid-January

These are known as les SOLDES in France, and they typically begin on the second Wednesday in January (or, to be precise, the first Wednesday in January after the 12th of January!) and run for four weeks. Some border areas of France use different dates to align themselves with the nearby commercial traditions and have a special derogation to do so.

It is an opportunity for businesses to attract new customers, to get rid of unwanted stock and for the consumer to bag a bargain, and as shops in France are only allowed to hold sales twice a year, it’s a great opportunity to bag a bargain, especially on larger, more costly items.

Local events in the Charente (16)

There are also plenty of local events that take place in January, too. The following are my favourites from my local region, but you will likely find similar events and festivals taking place wherever you live in France.

Distillery Visits

In our part of the beautiful Charente, we have our annual visit in January to a local family Cognac distillery near Rouillac. It is, of course, distillation time and the aromas and heat from the traditional Alambic swan-neck still are magical. Each year, Loic offers breakfast at La Chevalerie, and we book the place for a plentiful breakfast with our friends. Look out for events held by local producers in your area.

Tourist Office Guided Visits

Our Tourist Office in Rouillac offers guided visits throughout January. We recently visited our local 11th/12th Century Church in Mons 16140, learning about its rare stonemasonry depictions and its survival of a devastating fire (plus a lightning strike!)  We also had a guided tour of the nearby local distillery, where the owner, Katy of Laval-Aubinaud Cognac, shared her intimate distillation secrets.

It really is worth making contact with your local Tourist Office and asking to be put on their mailing list if you are looking for local activities.

Les Voeux du Maire

In January, our Maire, along with others throughout France, recounts the successes and achievements of the previous year and shares projects for the forthcoming year. Our entire Commune in Mons is invited to an aperitif and a “graillou” : a simple Charentais meal. Each Commune does something similar. It is an event our family looks forward to each year – a chance to see neighbours and share in our French community life.

Truffle festival in Jarnac

During the winter months, Jarnac is the truffle hub of our area, with the weekly truffle market and the annual Truffle festival where all produce associated with Truffles is celebrated. Artisanal producers working with truffles are there selling their produce – think meats, cheeses, bread, etc. There is also a meal in which each course uses the truffles from our region.

Black truffles have proved to be in shorter supply this year due to the particularly dry summer, so prices are buoyant (currently €800/kg!). We have planted six trees – one can live in hope!!!

International Cartoon Festival in Angouleme

Our regional capital sees the 50th edition of this Internationally renowned event which takes over the whole town. Buses are laid on to transport visitors around the different dedicated locations such as the Manga Village, which has many internationally recognised authors, artists and publishers selling a plethora of books and merchandise.

What are you up to in France this January?

When we first moved to rural France, we found the winter months a big change – we thought our little towns were sleepy with nothing much going on. We now know this is simply not true – we just need to know where to look to find out more.

We are off to an annual Franco-Anglais darts competition soon – wish us luck and bonne chance!

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Carol, a teacher from Hurworth in Darlington, lives in Charente in South-West France, where she runs La Grue Gites with her family.

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