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Joyeux Noël—almost. Ever curious about how holiday entertaining in Paris might compare with the U.S.? We consulted our French friends to find out about a handful of alternative traditions and customs that you might want to snap up.

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They Keep Their Decorations Intimate

Truth: We never met a strand of holiday lights we didn’t have a place for—indoors and out. The French tend to be much more strategic about the Christmas decor they set up. So maybe they’ll do a sweet garland over the mantle or put out a holiday creche, but the rest of their home remains holiday-free.

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And Rarely Go Overboard with Outdoor Decor

That inflatable Santa you put out the day after Thanksgiving? It just wouldn’t fly in France. Much like their indoor decor, the French prefer understated sophistication when it comes to their doors and lawns. Think minimalist greenery in the windows or white or blue lights draped delicately on trees.

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They Serve the Main Meal on Christmas Eve (Not Christmas Day)

Why wait until December 25 to serve the massive holiday feast? In France, the tradition is to dine all together on Christmas Eve, eating a multi-course meal that prioritizes fancy hors d’oeuvres (like oysters and foie gras) and meat or game bird for the entrée. Keep in mind, this dinner—traditionally served at home—can last up to six hours. (Why rush when there’s fine wine?)

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And For Dessert, They Go Savory Rather than Sweet

It may be the pastry capital of the world, but in France it’s actually much chicer to wind down a holiday meal with a savory cheese plate as opposed to an assortment of macarons. You can still mix in a few sweet things (grapes, figs, a hazelnut spread or fruity jam), but a selection of cheeses is true decadence—not to mention much more low maintenance to set out.

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They Never (Ever) Serve Eggnog

It’s called “lait de poule” in France, but if you’re craving it, you’ll have to order it online—or whip it up from scratch yourself. Instead, the French limit themselves to a much more festive beverage: Champagne.

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And They Take Everything Down Before New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is major in France, and keeping Christmas decor up is a bit of a faux pas. Instead, the ornaments go back into the boxes—and the focus shifts to party plans.

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