Although people in Europe celebrate Christmas in quite similar ways, every country has its own traditions and unique peculiarities for Christmas. In this article we have highlighted ten facts about French Christmas dinners… Keep reading to discover more about the French “Réveillon”.
1. The main Christmas meal is eaten on the 24th
In France, people normally prefer to organize the main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve, rather than on the 25th. The French Christmas Eve meal is called “Le Réveillon,” a word that comes from the verb réveiller, meaning to wake up or revive.
2. Every French Christmas dinner starts with an apéritif
Traditionally, in France each important dinner or lunch starts with an apéritif. This can include a glass of Champagne or another sparkling wine (Vouvray, Saumur, Touraine) and some “amuse-gueules,” which are bite-sized dishes ranging from salted peanuts to an assortment of gourmet and elaborated finger food. An example can be puff pastry filled with different ingredients such as ham, cheese or snails.
3. Foie Gras will be there
Foie gras is a very common gourmet French delicacy made with fattened duck or goose liver. The production of foie gras requires force-feeding birds to enlarge their livers, which is the reason why its consumption has become controversial. Despite this, serving foie gras during the Christmas dinner is mandatory and, at some point of the meal, it will make its royal appearance on the Christmas table. There are different traditional ways to serve foie gras. For example, it can be served with a sort of gingerbread called pain d’épices, or in the form of a stuffing, or made into a sauce.
4. Food is paired with good wines only
France is the country of excellent and fine wines. And Christmas is the right occasion to open that special expensive bottle that has been stored in the wine cellar for too long… Normally, the majority of French people drink Champagne during the Réveillon (such as Moët et Chandon or Veuve Cliquot), but other people could also opt for other sparkling – and maybe cheaper – wines.
5. At least one course will include seafood
Seafood is another important part of the Christmas dinner. A complete (and expensive) seafood platter can include smoked salmon, fresh oysters, caviar, lobsters, and coquilles St Jacques (a sort of fried scallops).
6. Cheese is eaten before the dessert
No French Christmas dinner can be complete without a cheese plate. In France, the typical Christmas cheese plate is not served as an appetizer, but always before the dessert! It’s traditional to serve an odd number of cheeses to your guests and to include different textures, from a soft brie to a firm comté, from cow cheese to goat or sheep cheese. The cheese board is normally accompanied with a red wine.
7. Eating 13 desserts is the rule
Once the plate of cheese is empty, the big French Christmas meal ends with no less than 13 delicious desserts. The number 13 represents Jesus and the 12 apostles. Although the number is always 13, the dessert types vary according to the local or family traditions, but they normally include dried fruit (such as dates and figs), and the “pompe a l’huile,” a traditional cake originating from the Provence.
8. The bûche de Noël is the typical Christmas dessert
The bûche de Noël, also known as the Yule log, is a chocolate-covered roll, with lines scraped on its entire topping to make it similar to a log. The Bûche can also be topped with some Christmas-related figurines generally representing Santa and other Christmas characters.
9. The papillotes
The papillotes are either chocolate or candied fruits wrapped in golden sparking paper which are normally used to decorate the Christmas table. Inside each paper wrapping, there is a tiny note with love messages. The papillotes was created in Lyon hundreds of years ago. Nowadays, they are sold massively in shops during the holiday season.
10. The table presentation counts
Having an impeccable and extremely elegant Christmas table is very important for French people. The table will be set with a lot of care (even for just a family meal), using the best tablecloth and napkins, as well as the best cutlery. It’s also common to place on the table three candles to represent the Trinity.