For each family, there is a special and unique way to celebrate Christmas. In France, we do share however some traditional étiquettes for the Reveillon de Noël. Every principal member of the family brings some gourmet specialties unique to his or her own region, generally from a particular reputable artisan (craftsman) or éleveur (grower/farmer).
Every year on Christmas’ Eve, our large family meets in a beautiful little estate lost in the middle of large agricultural fields dormant in the dead of winter. As we gather in the dining room, near a lively fire, bottles of Champagne are sabrées (opened with a sabre). Des amuse-gueules/bouches (bite-sized dishes) soon arrive from the busy kitchen, especially, warm and crispy feuilletés d’escargots (snail pastries) are an accompaniment de rigueur, brought by my mother from a local snail farm in the Anjou region.
After a protracted introductory course, we are called to sit down. The long oak table has been set with a array of silverware, plates, glasses and many other Christmas ornaments, as well as the ever-present bread in baskets and butter. l’Entrée (the appetizer) consists of raw & cooked oysters, saumon fumé (smoked salmon) and foie gras served with un vin moëlleux (semi-sweet wine) like a Vouvray, Côteau du Layon, or liquoreux like a Sauternes (very sweet wine).
For the plat principal, we find some viande rôtie (roasted meat) like chapon (capon – castrated rooster), pintade (guineafowl), agneau (lamb), chevreuil (roe deer), dinde aux marrons (chestnut-stuff turkey), accompanied by des petits légumes (small legumes): haricots verts (green beens), courgettes (zucchinis), champignons (mushrooms). For proper food pairing, this part of the meal showcases some good, robust red wines.
Following a refreshing green salad comes an assortment of fromages presented on a circular wooden board. The tradition demands that one offers at least three different types of cheeses: lait de vache (cow’s milk), de brebis (female sheep) et de chêvre (goat).
Une bûche de Noël is the traditional desert, a buttercream cake in the shape of a log, topped with colorful little Christmas figurines, and cut in individual slices for everyone. In our family however, we prefer an ice-cream/cake version, which is much easier to digest to conclude such a rich meal!