As Christmas draws nearer and the days get hotter, I find my mind wandering to the Christmas season I experienced 4 years ago in Paris. I think I speak for many of us Australians when I say that while I love our traditions, there has always been a part of me that has yearned for the Christmases in movies! Long scarves, snowmen , snowball fights, blazing fireplaces, and cold weather in which it is rational to drink hot chocolate! My own tradition has always been to force down the hot beverage despite the sweltering heat. Christmas in Paris gave me the chance to experience the season in the way I’d always dreamed, and introduced me to a number of specifically French traditions I’d never heard of. To be perfectly honest, most of these revelations were food based – food and drink typical of the French Christmas season. Did you know that in France they have their big Christmas Feast on Christmas Eve night? Christmas day is reserved more for opening presents and relaxing than being the star of the show. Santa Claus, or Père Noël as he is known, still visits on the same night for Australian and French kids alike though!
If you’re planning to head to France this Christmas, or are simply curious to know what’s on the menu, then stick around!
GALERIE LAFAYETTES GOURMET CHRISTMAS TREATS
Yesterday, we made a post about the festive experiences and famous decorations at the beautiful Galerie Lafayette in Paris. Anyone familiar with the Galerie will know its name to be synonymous with high-end, and its gourmet food department is no different. They recently released their Christmas line, a series of decadent chocolates and pastries from top chefs and chocolatiers such as Philippe Conticini and Jean-Paul Hévin. Every facet of these creations have clearly been created with the utmost care and attention to detail. In everything from the outer design to the flavors these pastries evoke the French Noel, and indeed hint at the other foods on our list!
When I first tried Vin Chaud at the local Christmas market it blew my mind. I told all my friends about this new French drink I had discovered, feeling very worldly indeed, until I was humbled by one who explained to me that vin chaud was basically the French term for mulled wine. It translated to ‘hot wine,’ so perhaps I should have figured that out myself! Regardless, this hot, sweet, and spiced red wine based beverage is everywhere during French winter. Though the French are more likely to opt for Champagne on actual Christmas day, this drink is undeniably Christmassy. The Galerie lafayette treat named 'Bûche Foie Gras façon “vin chaud”,' by Dubernet contains the flavors of the iconic drink, a nod to its Christmas significance.
FOIE GRAS TERRINE
Foie Gras, duck liver, is often served before the main meal as part of the Apéro. Apéro is a light serving of snacks and drinks prior to the first course/main meal of the evening, and is a year round tradition in France. On Christmas Eve however it is particularly common to have Foie Gras with bread, or even on French gingerbread! It's commonly served at Christmas time with a fig or onion jam.
The turkey is a crucial part of French Christmas dinner. This dish is probably more familiar as something that we would also eat here in Australia. The French way is to stuff the Turkey with chestnuts, and then have typical sides such as roast potatoes and green beans, as well as more chestnuts. The French have quite the penchant towards working fragrant nuts into their meals and desserts, particularly almonds and pistachios, a theme recurring in the Galerie Lafayette Christmas deserts as seen before.
PLATEAU DE FROMAGE (CHEESE COURSE)
After the main course, it is typical to have an assortment of cheeses with either bread or a simple salad, before the dessert is served. This is actually done year round in many French households, but is certainly not neglected on Christmas!
BUCHE DE NOEL
A lot of the Galerie’s treats are designed after the Buche de Noel, otherwise known as the ‘Yule Log.’ We’ve probably all heard of this dessert, but in France this cake is a MUST HAVE. Its' name and appearance derive from the Germanic/Pagan tradition of burning a real yule log to invoke good luck and protection in the new year. Sources seem to differ regarding the date of this burning, whether it was Christmas Eve or the Winter Solstice, but today the chocolaty, spongey Yule log is enjoyed after Christmas Eve dinner.
So there you have it! The Christmas foods of France - or at least those that defy our Australian way of celebrating Christmas. There are certainly more bits and pieces that pertain to the Christmas season of course - you cannot capture a whole countries festive spirit in 800 words. Let's take ourselves briefly through the Christmas Eve dinner, starting with the Apéro of champagne and foie gras with bread. Then would be served l’entrée, consisting of scallops, soup, or other hors d'oeuvre type dishes. The Foie gras Terrine could alternatively also be served at l’entrée if other snacks were chosen for Apéro. Next, is the main, featuring the turkey and traditional sides. This is followed by the third course, cheese and salad, before finally the dessert is served; the yule log is the star of course but may also be accompanied by truffles, cookies, or fruit. It's quite different to the typical hot Christmas day lunch I'm used to with ham, prawns and pavlova, and the whole family adorned with the small paper crowns we got from our Christmas crackers. That's what makes the experience of another type of Christmas all the more fun, and one I would recommend to everyone. It is such a delight to see the ways we all celebrate Christmas internationally! I can confirm without any doubt, that regardless of the differing traditions and foods, both the French Noel and Australian Christmas embody the festive spirit - and that's what it's all about!