Although I will be one of the hundreds of thousands of Parisians to leave the city over the holiday period, for others the holidays will be an opportunity to visit the city. Luckily for them, there are plenty of special events organised, many of which are aimed specifically at the international visitor.
If you are in Paris on Christmas or New Year's Day, you will note that the city doesn't stop like certain other cities (London..). It is possible to take a Metro, go to restaurants, the cinema or the theatre and even visit the Eiffel tower. However, most of the large museums are closed on both days.
Musée des Arts Forains
For what is now becoming a tradition, the fascinating - and fairly secret - musée des arts forains - will be exceptionally open to the public over the holidays. Inside you'll find a collection of 19th century fairground equipment, most of which you can actually play with and ride on.
Until Jan 2nd 53 Avenue des Terroirs de France, 75012, M° Bercy http://www.pavillons-de-bercy.com/
Over the holiday period, the giant 104 arts centre in the North East of Paris is running a special magic festival. Alongside the large-scale shows of illusionists and magicians, you'll also find smaller installations that can be explored at any time of the day.
Full information on the festival and access to the centre can be found here: http://www.104.fr/#/en/
Ice Skating (and other winter sports)
More and more ice rinks seem to be popping up around Paris over the winter period, although the main installation is still the rink situated in front of the Hotel de Ville. You'll find others on the Champs Elysées, at the Trocadero, at Montparnasse and even on the Eiffel Tower (see full list here (in French, but with clear indications on addresses, dates, times and prices) http://www.paris.fr/loisirs/les-grands-rendez-vous/noel/les-patinoires/rub_10064_stand_108497_port_25228).
Note also that the Stade Charlety in the south of the city will be once again organising free 'winter sports' activities for the under 16s (http://agenda.paris.fr/evenements/908).
Keeping children amused
The Jardin des Plantes could be the place to head if you're looking for activities to keep children happy. The exhibition 'Au fil des araignées', shining a light on the hidden world of spiders, is in both English and French. On top of the interactive features that will delight creepy-crawly fans, there are also a series of special events being organised over the holiday period.
The Jardin is also home to the city's zoo, and several other museums and galleries, many of which are organising events currently. Full details can be found here: http://www.mnhn.fr/museum/foffice/transverse/transverse/accueil.xsp?cl=en
Each year, the Theatre de Chatelet produces a Broadway musical over the holiday period, which is generally performed in English. This year the show is kitsch classic 'The Sound of Music', which could offer the opportunity for the casual visitor to spend an evening in one of the city's most impressive theatres. More information here: http://www.chatelet-theatre.com/2011-2012/?lg=_en
If you are in the city with children over the holiday period, you may also be interested to know that Dr Seuss's 'The Cat in the Hat' is being performed (in English and French it says, although I'm not too sure exactly how this works in the show) at the Theatre de la Ville in Montmartre. http://www.theatredelaville-paris.com/spectacle-thecatinthehatkatiemitchell-345
Two exhibitions in the city offer the opportunity for family fun over the holiday period. The Grand Palais is marking the 40th birthday of video games (Pong first appeared in 1972) with an exhibition called Game Story. Although the French like to focus on the wider aesthetic and cultural history of the industry, expect also to be able to play the games (if the crowds are not too large). See the official site for more details.
Also at the Grand Palais, 'Of Toys and Men' presents the history of toys in the Western world with over a thousand toys from ancient times to the present day. More information here.
Although much of Paris remains open over the holiday period, it can sometimes be tricky to find a restaurant, and it should be noted that most that are open offer special menus at very high prices on the principal holiday dates.
This list on the Paris by Mouth website provides a complete list of what will be open when in the city.
For those planning to be in Paris to see in the new year, note that the Champs Elysées is very crowded, and not a particularly pleasant to be on that evening (on most evenings in truth...), and that there will be no official firework displays in the city. If you're looking for a venue therefore to party on that particular evening, you'll find a full list here: http://www.parisbouge.com/events/2011/12/31/