France is famous for its food, and for being a country that invests a great deal of time, energy and importance into its food. So it should come as no surprise that French festive Christmas food is extravagant, copious, delicious, rich and generally wonderful.
It’s an integral part of Christmas celebrations. Families gather to feast for hours, schools serve impressive festive meals, workplaces celebrate with generous apérifs, restaurants put on incredible Christmas menus….
Let’s take a look at what French festive Christmas food consists of.
French festive Christmas food starts with apéritif
Apéritif (or apéro) in France is an institution. And an apéro at Christmas is the best! Champagne flows with a delectable selection of finger food to share. All celebratory festive meals will begin with an apéro.
Champagne, or sparkling wine from another area in France such as Crémant de Bourgogne or Alsace, is the most festive of apéritif drinks. Children often drink Champomy, fizzy apple juice packaged to look like champagne. There may be other cocktails on offer and soft drinks for the non-drinkers but bubbles tend to be the norm at Christmas.
While a basic apéro at any other time of year might just be some crisps, nuts and olives, Christmas is the perfect excuse to serve extravagant canapés, little toasts, verrines (small glasses filled with deliciousness), little pastry bites and so on.
Christmas festive entrées (first course)
Oysters are a very popular festive Christmas food in France. Traditionally they are only eaten in months with an “R” in them (which basically means not in summer), but they come into their own in December. Whether as an apéritif or an entrée, they are very much an integral part of the Christmas meal.
You’ll see boxes and boxes of oysters being sold at markets, fishmongers, supermarkets and even outside restaurants. They usually come in lots of 12 or 24, so if you’re only a small group or couple, then you really need to like them to buy a box!
Oysters are usually served with a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar with shallots.
Christmas food includes festive seafood platters
Other seafood is also very much a part of French festive food. Many families will order a specially prepared platter of mixed seafood for the Réveillon (Christmas Eve) meal.
Typical choices might include prawns, clams, lobster, crab and whelks. Scallops are also very popular at Christmas, as are snails (though of course they are not seafood!)
Smoked salmon, a French Christmas favourite
As well as mixed seafood, smoked salmon is definitely a favourite French festive dish. It can be presented on its own for individuals to serve themselves and eat as it is or with bread, or on prepared canapés with blinis or toast.
The most festive of Christmas food in France, foie gras
Probably the most quintessential Christmas food in France is foie gras. While it might be going slightly out of fashion these days with growing numbers of vegetarians and vegans in France, it is still the ultimate Christmas dish for enormous amounts of French people.
Foie gras is not pâté as many non-French wrongly call it, but literally the fattened liver of a duck or goose. It is usually served with rye bread or pain d’épices and a chutney such as red onion or fig.
The main course, le plat
Main courses for a festive French Christmas tend to be meaty. Vegetarianism (let alone veganism) is pretty rare in France. Vegetables do play a role but none are so important as to be included in a list of typical dishes for Christmas (along the lines of the infamous brussel sprouts in UK and sweet potato dishes in USA.)
Surprisingly (I think!) a simple white sausage made of pork, chicken and veal with cream is a very popular Christmas main course. Boudin blanc is often flavoured with truffle to make it more festive at the end of the year.
Turkey or capon
Many French families will serve roast turkey or capon (a castrated rooster) stuffed with chestnuts as the main dish at Christmas. However, don’t expect to see enormous 10 kg turkeys for sale in France. As there is so much other food served before the bird, turkeys tend to be reared to a much more reasonable size. There isn’t the culture of cooking an enormous beast which then morphs into risotto, curry and sandwiches for days.
The turkey, capon, goose or guinea fowl is sometimes served on the 25th rather than at the traditional Réveillon meal on the 24th. Obviously all families have their own traditions and variations. It is also not necessarily presented as a whole beast as in the photo above but more sophisticatedly in individual servings as below.
Boeuf en croûte
As I’ve mentioned before, different families have different traditions which means all sorts of other dishes might be served instead of turkey. One such popular dish is boeuf en croûte, ie beef in pastry, which is very similar to Beef Wellington.
The cheese course
Almost no festive celebratory French meal is complete without a cheese course. This is served before the dessert and usually includes a good selection of different cheeses, such as a soft cheese, a blue, a hard cheese and a chèvre (goat). Cheese is eaten with bread (or alone) but not with crackers.
Le Réveillon de Noël dinner wouldn’t be complete without a bûche de noël. I would go as far as to say that the bûche is as important to a French Christmas meal as the classic Christmas pudding is to an English Christmas dinner.
The Christmas log
La bûche de noël – Christmas log – comes in all shapes and forms from traditional homemade (photo below made by my son) to modern ice-cream versions and more. I’ve written about this delicious festive dessert in detail here.
The 13 desserts of Christmas
I’m including the 13 desserts of a Provençal Christmas here as it’s local to where I live. It certainly isn’t a nationwide tradition. This extravagant-sounding end to the Christmas meal in Provence isn’t actually as copious as it sounds. Each of the thirteen desserts are actually fairly modest, but highly symbolic. Read all about it in this post I wrote Thirteen desserts: Christmas in Provence.
What to drink with French festive Christmas food
The Christmas meal in France is always accompanied by good wine. For many people it’s the perfect time to crack open a special bottle from the wine cellar.
Water is always served too, both sparkling and regular tap water, to accompany the meal. Children get to indulge in a soft drink but non-drinking adults rarely drink anything but water with the meal.
Other festive Christmas food and drink
Pain d’épices (literally spice bread but often described as gingerbread) is a delicious treat only really found at Christmastime. It comes in various guises and is eaten both as a sweet cake and as an accompaniment to foie gras. What is pain d’épices? Click to find out more.
And finally, vin chaud! Hot wine, mulled wine, glühwein, glögg….Vin chaud is France’s answer to the ultimate seasonal warming drink found at Christmas markets, bars and ski resorts throughout winter. Vin chaud isn’t typically served at home, other than for a Christmas party, but is mainly enjoyed outside in the cold.
Have you experienced Christmas in France? What did you eat?
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