What are traditional Christmas meals in France?
For many French people, the more important part of Christmas is Christmas Eve. Traditionally on this day, families would go to midnight Mass in the local church, and then come home for a special meal. Nowadays not so many people go to Mass and the meal may well be eaten the next day, or still on Christmas Eve but earlier. If eaten on Christmas Eve the meal is called the reveillon, or wake-up meal, and regarded as more important than Christmas Day dinner. However, it’s still usual to have a special meal whenever you celebrate the event.
As with most French cooking, Christmas food varies around the country with each region having its own local specialities. If you’re looking for a well known menu popular in many parts of the country though, you would end up with something like this:
A popular Christmas starter is seafood based. It could include oysters or other seafood, or smoked salmon. More traditional still would be a starter of snails, often with garlic butter, or foie gras.
A classic main course is roast goose. This was once the Christmas meal of choice in many countries, including the UK. In Britain a lot of people now prefer turkey as larger, more convenient and often cheaper, but goose still spells tradition and luxury, and in France is very popular. However, turkey and, for smaller families, duck and chicken are also often chosen, and especially in the countryside a lot of people like game birds.
There are many rich and delicious French recipes for Christmas goose. It’s not usually stuffed with the kind of stuffing we would use for a turkey – the meat is too rich and fatty for that – but is often accompanied by all kinds of flavourings including chestnuts, prunes and Armagnac, or specially prepared vegetable like pureed celeriac and potato mash. You can find lots of these if you put ‘French roast Christmas goose’ in a search engine, or click here for one authentic example. Where turkey is preferred (as it is in Burgundy, for example) you often find very elaborate stuffings containing chestnuts, oysters and all kinds of other variations.
Traditionally a family would kill and pluck their own goose, and roast it over a spit with a sauce made from whatever seasonal vegetables could be obtained. This isn’t so easy to manage nowadays, but people still make a big effort to get the best quality bird they can find.
Desserts are also regional, but probably the most famous and classic French Christmas dessert is the Yule log or Buche de Noel. This is one French Christmas dish that has been adopted by other countries, though not all countries do it in the authentic French way. A French chocolate log has a filling of chestnut puree as well as a dark chocolate coating, though there are lots of variations. It can also be made with white chocolate and have fruit in the centre, for instance – a lighter, more modern version.
Of course there are many other Christmas desserts eaten in different parts of France including pastry dishes and cakes such as the Alsatian Kougloff. However, the most elaborate has got to be the ’13 desserts’ found in Provence. These 13 dishes are supposed to represent Christ and the 12 Apostles at the Last Supper. There are many variations available but you should have 13 separate dishes and these should be laid out over the whole 3-day Christmas holiday, which is why cold ones are mainly used.
And of course the whole meal should be accompanied by Champagne or at least some very good wines.
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